Submit Press release  · eTN Team ·  Advertising  ·  eTN Awards  - Worldtourism Events    

How Dumb Is Dumb?

Philly false airline ads draw high responses, ethics concerns

share this article

Jun 09, 2008

NEW YORK - Did the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News cross an ethical line Friday when they ran a slew of false ads for a non-existent airline in an attempt to gauge the power of print and online advertising? Some journalism ethicists and observers say yes.

The fake airline ads that ran Friday in both Philadelphia dailies and their joint Web site apparently drew a higher-than-usual response rate, at least online, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

An Inquirer story reported that the ads for "Derrie-Air," which promoted the fictional airline in several ads as a way to test the paper's ad reach in print and online, drew in a 1.25% "click-through" rate for the online version, compared to a national click-through average of 0.05%.

"The full- and partial-page ads for Derrie-Air, a fictitious environmentally friendly airline purporting to offer fares based on a passenger's weight, appeared 21 times in sections of The Inquirer, 15 times in the Daily News, and on the home page," the story said, adding later, "The ads carry no disclaimer, but one does appear on the Web page to which readers are referred in the ads. It says, in part, 'The Derrie-Air campaign is a fictitious advertising campaign created by Philadelphia Media Holdings to test the results of advertising in our print and online products and to stimulate discussion on a timely environmental topic of interest to all citizens.'"

The lack of full disclosure on most of the ads prompted some concern from some journalism veterans.

"It is clearly deception," said Bob Steele, the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at The Poynter Institute. "Newspapers should not be in the business of deception. I can’t imagine the Inquirer and Daily News would run fake ads from other companies."

Kelly McBride, Poynter ethics group leader, said: "anytime you deceive your audience, you run the risk of compromising their ability to trust you.

"Market research is a good goal in terms of understanding how advertising is going to work in this era," she added. "I wonder if there is a way to do that that doesn't deceive the audience. Is there something you could create that could measure responses without tricking the audience?"

Officials from Philadelphia Media Holdings did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Clint Brewer, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and executive editor of The City Paper in Nashville, Tenn., worried that a false ad might spark distrust in the news product. "My concern would be, given how thirsty the public is for affordable air travel, if readers were to be miffed about this being false, would they then transfer those feelings to the news side of the papers?" he said. "I would be concerned if I was in those newsrooms."

Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow and Daily News Editor Michael Days were not reachable for comment.

John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, defended the newspapers: "I think the public is pretty understanding. [The ad] is so over the top, it is hard to think anyone would see it any other way."

The Inquirer story did not say if such false ads would run again soon in either paper or on the Web site.

Philly false airline ads draw high responses, ethics concerns

Premium Partners