EZG’s Ad Team Uncovers The Rolling Stone

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For their August issue, Rolling Stone magazine made the controversial decision to display alleged Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the front cover, sparking outrage and criticism on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The headline reads: “THE BOMBER. How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” People have called it “insulting” that instead of posting a mug shot or a more “rough” photo of Tsarnaev, they posted a picture from his own Facebook that portrays him as an innocent and perhaps misunderstood youth.

Since the news of the cover story broke, the advertising team at EZG has been discussing the balance of that outlet: an amazing opportunity for high exposure, but also the possibility of a backlash for appearing to capitalize on a sensitive issue.  With all the attention the issue is getting, would we rely on the near-guarantee of high readership to make the possible public outrage worth it? Or would we pull the ads and recommend against having any presence in the magazine knowing that it could negatively impact a client’s brand?

Here is what some of the ad team members had to say:

Director, Advertising: Would I recommend that my clients advertise in the Rolling Stone Dzhokhar Tsarnaev issue?  With all the hype the issue is receiving, the investment could be seen as worthwhile for a national advertiser based solely on increased readership. With that said I think as a media buyer, we have an obligation to not only evaluate a medium on reach alone but also on the quality of the advertising venue itself.  In this case, as a media buyer I would recommend against the insertion. The “main story” is too sensitive to readers, and I think involvement could in the end reflect poorly on the advertiser and force them to launch a recovery strategy.

Account Executive, Advertising: Even though it is almost certain that this issue will produce an incredible amount of sales, I still would recommend against advertising in the Rolling Stone. While the temporary exposure may seem beneficial, a business risks dealing with a long-term PR crisis by “supporting” the insensitivity and offensiveness of the article. I do think it would be interesting if Rolling Stone made the decision to donate a portion of their sales to The One Fund; in that case it may be worthwhile for the advertiser to maintain presence in the issue.  

Graphic Designer: Everyone’s brain seems to be plagued with “Is this okay?” It’s a brash move on Rolling Stone’s part to possibly sell a lot of magazines. In the photo, Tsarnaev seems revered.  I see the photo as an eerily frightening image of him due to the fact that he appears to be a normal, polite kid. It disgusts me to look at any photo of him, regardless of style. I don’t think that the production team intended to esteem him. This should be obvious to the general public by reading the headline.  It’s strange to me that the people at The New York Times weren’t ridiculed for using the exact same photo in their May 5th cover.  Rolling Stone may have gone too far with their choice of photo on such a sensitive subject on the cover of a music magazine, but everything considered, I see misunderstanding and free speech turned into turmoil.

Advertising Intern: Rolling Stone defended their article by saying that, “The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.” To a point, I agree with this statement. I believe that it is important to understand how and why this happened. That does not, however, mean that I agree with Rolling Stone’s “examination.” The photo that they chose is one that portrays Dzhokhar looking like any other celebrity on their covers and leans towards being sympathetic to Tsarnaev. Does this mean that companies should pull their ads from what is bound to be one of this year’s most notorious magazines? I would honestly say that it depends on the company. If they are a wholesome, family oriented brand, then it would make sense to pull the ad. If, however, they are a younger, more edgy brand, especially one that enjoys pushing boundaries, they might consider keeping their ads. It would certainly be a risk, but I suppose that it goes back to the age-old question that asks if any publicity is good publicity.

What are your thoughts on the August issue of Rolling Stone? EZG wants to hear from you!

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