Starbucks recently sent an RFP to their media partners with a “call for innovation.” Bon Appetit‘s well-executed response can be seen in its May issue. Readers flip to the masthead page to find the business team’s names and positions listed on a Starbucks-like chalkboard. After the headline, “What do you like best with your Starbucks coffee at home?” six members of Bon Appetit‘s staff share their favorite Starbucks pairings.
With print advertising revenues down and magazines fighting for their share of limited budgets, maybe it’s not that surprising that Bon Appetit opened up its masthead to advertising. Still, though I admit it’s a clever promotion, my sense is that it crosses a line. This isn’t simply advertising—by putting the “promotion” in a format that readers count on to be straight service editorial (just the facts), the page has been transformed into a Bon Appetit endorsement. Perhaps in this increasingly competitive marketplace for magazine advertising this is how “innovation” will be defined, but I’d like to think that there are better, less ethically murky ways to incorporate advertising “innovation” without requiring or encouraging members of a magazine’s staff to become advocates or spokesmen for an advertiser’s product.
Update: Mediaweek reports that the Bon Appetit Starbucks masthead treatment was a one-time deal.