Posted by: Kenn Hermann | August 28, 2006

Ironies and Dissonance of Ad Placements

Week after week the New York Times Magazine carries searching and provocative essays, unlike the fluff that most Sunday magazines carry. This week was no different. It carries a searing photo essay by Brenda Ann Kenneally, “Children of the Storm,” on the continuing plight of children in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The pyschological impact of Kenneally’s photos will haunt you long after you have closed the pages. But wait. When you pull back a bit from the story, you cannot help but be jarred by the multiple ironies and pyschological and moral disssonance created by the ads that accompany the story.

For example, take a look at the cover image of this disconsolate child standing in the debris field of the hurricane laid out side-by-side with the full-page rear cover ad for Level Vodka.

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Are you not at the very least taken aback by the juxtaposition of these two jarring images, one of the black and white world of innocent suffering, the other of a manipulated image of sensual sophistication in luxuriant color? What’s the message here? What’s real? Where’s the truth? What was the editor thinking? What better way to illustrate the ‘reality’ of a post-modern world?

My second example is a 4 page spread on the high-fashion of Eileen Fisher that is dropped in the middle of Jason DeParle’s gripping essay on “Orphaned,” on the lives of many children cast adrift by Katrina. What were the editors thinking here? That readers would not note the irony of stylish affluence juxtaposed with the images of grinding poverty and destitution? By what moral compass did the editors find their way to this layout?

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Unfortunately, these are not isolated instances. We can find examples in all of the serious magazines and newspapers. I have picked out the The New York Times because it offers the most egregious examples of ironic and dissonant ad placements, week after week. I am sure you can find numerous other examples in your favorite magazines.

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