Ads versus content

I’ve had an iPhone for just over two years now, so you can imagine how eager I am to switch carriers and phones.  In my early research I was leaning towards a smart new up and comer: Samsung’s Galaxy.  The phone itself has some nice features (automatic wifi music sync, no cords necessary) and has been highly reviewed by all the right techies.  Even better was that it was being heavily promoted by T-Mobile, so the discounts would be decent on a cheaper network than the abysmal AT&T.

Assuming you’ve turned on a radio/TV/website in the past week you know where this is going.  I could talk about the crappy state of American telecoms if 4 became 3, the pathetic auctioning of cellular frequencies that will surely be repeated for the 4G services that managed both to not raise much money and to exclude new entrants  (especially compared to Britain’s awesome auction proceeds AND new companies), or the lack of handheld tech innovation we’ll see when Apple et al can only shop their wares at two companies.

Instead I’m going to talk about the Economist.  They wrote a two-page brief on the negative effect this acquisition would have, focusing mainly on rebuffing AT&T’s claims that it would bring infrastructure investment (it didn’t as the Ma Bell monopoly, after a similar promise) and that there still would be regional competitors (consumers focus on national plans, hence AT&T’s marketing campaign about covering 97% of Americans).  As if the Economist wasn’t clear, they dedicated one of their leaders stating just how much they condemned such a deal.  And then, they printed two full-page ads AT&T had bought.

My first thought was: bully for the Economist, not letting advertiser dollars purchase editorial influence.  Afterall, how many of us are brave enough to tell our boss they’re a moron and not to be trusted?  But my second thought was: I wonder if AT&T will buy space in next week’s edition, and why did the Economist take the money?

I know why they took the money, the advertising section is assuredly separate from the editorial staff, I doubt they ever talk (as it should be, to allow independence).  But it would be foolish for AT&T to continue plowing money into a publication that will devote equal copy to their competitors for free.  Of course, that’s not really true, the Economist isn’t arguing that we as consumers shouldn’t buy AT&T, just that their business strategy is harmful.  But in the end, readers of the Economist are going to be more influenced by the articles than the ads, and the telecom’s brand will diminish.  I’d think it’d be better for the company to advertise on more neutral ground: Wired, Foreign Affairs, the Atlantic, etc.  While each of these has published something nasty about AT&T, they do not frequently keep up on on-going stories like the Economist, which surely will carry the AT&T story at every stage.

Case in point: Bahrain.  For months I saw successive ads touting the pro-business, politically-free environment of the Gulf emirate.  And then the Arab Spring started and it wouldn’t matter how many ads King al-Khalifa took out when the Economist covered the riots and editorialized against the government.  AT&T is better served getting its house in order.

Media type: Magazine
From: the Economist
Title: An audacious merger with a poor reception
Read it at: http://www.economist.com/node/18440903?story_id=18440903