Nike Product Placement on a Cover That Actually Works
Metro Sports’ cover feature doubles as an ad—why I’m fine with that.
I’ve been running a lot this summer. I live in the New York metro area. I like sports.
I also write about the magazine industry, and am blessed (or saddled, depending on your perspective) with a bit of an old-school mentality of journalistic integrity. That is, church-state separation, where magazine editors and ad salespeople are divided by Plexiglas and the cover is an untainted, pristine piece of real estate. (That wall, as you know, is crumbling every day, as the pressure mounts for more and more magazines to bridge the gap between editorial and advertorial, art and commerce.)
It’s with this as a backdrop that I picked up a copy of the latest issue of Metro Sports, a free monthly magazine covering outdoor sports like running and rock climbing and mountaineering in the New York area. The company also publishes versions in D.C. as well as Chicago (Windy City Sports), Denver (Rocky Mountain Sports), Boston (New England Sports Mag) and elsewhere.
The cover features Sarah Reinertsen, the first female leg amputee to finish an Ironman triathlon. She’s wearing one Nike shoe and a Nike t-shirt, with the words “Where Will You Be?” under the date “08.31.08” emblazoned on her chest. In the bottom left corner, Nike’s swoosh logo accompanies a cover line—“The Human Race 10K”—and a callout to “See page 12.”
The inside cover features a two-page ad for Nike Plus’ “Human Race” taking place on, yes, August 31. On page 12, Bob Babbitt, publisher and founder of Gen-A, the magazine’s parent company, writes what only can be described as brochure copy for the event. (“Seventeen million runs have been logged on the site since early July. Some people have been running with music on their iPods, while folks who would rather do without tunes are logging miles with a Nike+ Sportband, All are pointing towards The Human Race.”)
Product placement, particularly for outdoorsy titles, is nothing new. (See Outside’s treatment of a Bode Miller cover feature in 2006 just before the Winter Olympics.) But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an advertiser’s logo incorporated into a cover line.
But that’s the old-school mentality talking. As a "runner," I wanted to know more about this Human Race thing. Didn’t matter if it came from Nike or a publisher pimping Nike. I didn’t care.
This is rare, though. I can’t imagine I would have the same carefree attitude if Esquire or Vanity Fair or Wired ran a cover feature that read like marketing copy, or incorporated a movie’s logo into a coverline.
But like I said, the walls are crumbling. And I wouldn’t be surprised.