The advertisement. The advert. The “ad.” The commercials embedded in magazines. The obstacles we must flip through in order to find our content. Abstractly, this is how I always thought of them. However, in practice, I must actually spend a good portion of my magazine reading time digesting ads and not hating them. Johnson, in “Why Advertisers Choose Magazines” cites a study done by Experian Simons which found that “consumers rated magazines as more trustworthy, inspirational, and life enhancing than television and the Internet, and they were more receptive to magazine ads than those in other media” (48). I know this must be true by the way I hover over YouTube advertisements, waiting for that blessed SKIP THIS AD button to save me. Oppositely, I tend to save magazine advertisements that I adore. There is this one ad in particular by Dolce and Gabbana I have saved on my bulletin board. I post it each year I come back to school. A woman dressed in all black, bag poised at the crook of her elbow, looks over a teeming herd of men, falling all over themselves for her attention. She is parting the crowd, as if to say, “I have somewhere to be and it is not with any of you.” Who wouldn’t want to be her? I didn’t cut out any of the content from that particular Vogue, but I still have this. Which makes me wonder if advertisements have become content as well.
Johnson points out that advertisements were not always this way, and he takes us on a history field trip to show it. Some publishers wanted to “keep their magazines unsullied by advertising” (55). Harper’s, for example, turned down an $18,000 ad for the back of their magazine. This was at the turn of the 20th century. But how about the ’70s? This weekend, I was in an antique shop just outside of Portsmouth, Maine when I found a vintage magazine section. I came away with the 1976 Hundredth Anniversary Issue of The Harvard Lampoon. All white cover, practically perfect condition, five bucks. I had it set aside to look at its ads for this class, and I was surprised to not find many in the center of the magazine itself. I could not be sure if this is because it is a special edition or if it is because The Lampoon, being a literary-content based magazine, found ads to be tacky. The Harvard Lampoon has relegated their ads to the back of their magazine, much like Schribner’s did with their six ads in 1929 (55). Lampoon features only eight ads forty-seven years later.
Because Lampoon also fabricates farcical ads of their own (Bored of the Rings, one dollar at the Lampoon Castle), most of the advertisements assume a jocular tone. An advertisement for the Boston Colonade Hotel boasts: “Only the Atlantic separates us from the other grand hotels.” They then feature a profile about the spunky-looking maid pictured below: “If you think Priscilla’s approach to cleaning too teutonic, look at the gentler side of it. The way she turn down you bed in the evening and fluffs up the pillow.” The ad itself is very wordy but that suits the publication at hand, attempting to persuade the reader to see a real advertisement as content. The magazine’s present call to advertisements on the website maintains a comical attitude: “If you place an ad with us, we can promise that your advertisement will be examined by thousands upon thousands of the best-looking, most intelligent, and least stingy humans ever to have breathed on this planet.”
I thought The New Yorker might serve as a similar comparison to the vintage Lampoon, because it is also content heavy. It is no surprise that The New Yorker features ads in the middle of its current issues. For reference, I have the August 31, 2015 issue. Unlike Lampoon, however, The New Yorker offers an alternative brand of advertisement that exudes luxury. I chose an Eileen Fisher ad for comparison. It stands at odds with the content as well, not attempting to blend in like the Boston Colonade does. There are no words besides the brand name and the website in clean white against a black backdrop. A blond, unaccessorized woman clutches a beige cardigan close as if windswept. Minimalism. Rather than attempting to be part of the magazine, this ad pulls the reader away more like the commercial sensibility I had spoken to before. Yet, the sophistication and allure of The New Yorker does not render this ad out of place. Perhaps it becomes content in the way it supports the dream reader: intellectual, well dressed, utilitarian. That has its own appeal.