How to Win the Game of Advertisements

What is a magazine? For Brooke Duffy, author of Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age, the answer is multifaceted. Starting with the “Big Six” magazines of the early twentieth century, Duffy outlines the history of the “glossy,” tracking the transformations of the medium over time and the influence of digital culture on its development. Early on, magazines invested their page space and resources to womens issues, promoting themselves as “femininity bibles” despite their overwhelmingly male editorial staff. Intent on establishing a repertoire with their readers, some companies even adopted pseudonyms to enlist the trust and confidence of their female audiences. As a result, “men made the majority of editorial decisions for women’s magazines and often depicted women in polarized ways,” painting a misleading picture of women that forced them into “oppressive roles based on socially constructed notions of the ideal woman” (24). Small, sleek, and all about womanhood, these publications functioned primarily as sources of leisure.

Following the second World War, this definition shifted as postwar consumerism turned editorials into breeding grounds for advertisements, a change that altered the very nature of magazines themselves. As these publications became increasingly filled with posters for new consumer goods, the quality of the editorials began to degrade; placing “serious articles” about harsh social truths detracted from the effectiveness of ads grounded in promoting fantasies or opulence. Complimentary editorials and “advertorials” began to emerge.

The Internet has only hastened this transformation. The increase in competition (magazines have to compete, not only with other magazine brands but also, online companies to reach new audiences) and the changing digital habits of younger generations of readers (young people get more of their news from social media or 24-hour news services) has necessitated that magazine companies develop new business models, ones that blend digital elements with traditional print ones. The conflation of the values and goals between these two arguably different mediums has not just threatened the quality of editorial writing; it has also handed the keys of the entire magazine industry over to advertisers.

New York Times

Traditional print companies are switching to digital platforms to stay relevant. Via

From this exchange came the rise of advertorials or, advertisements disguised as editorials. In today’s world, fashion pieces weighing the pros and cons of a certain bag or clothing line are no longer considered “innocent” representations or opinions: many of them are guided by advertisers looking to ensnare readers through the voice of trusted writers or bloggers. The line between actual opinion and sponsored content has become blurred beyond recognition.

Clever Product Placement

Filmmakers can make money without intruding too much on the work through clever product placement. Screenshot from Dexter with subtle Nikon product placement via

But in the grand scheme of things, are heavily disguised advertisements really so bad? As someone mentioned in class earlier this week, young filmmakers looking to make art need to turn a profit to continue working, which can mean “giving in” to the demands of the lucrative advertising industry. If filmmakers have no choice but to depend on the cooperation and donations from advertisers, any efforts to minimize the visibility of ads in films and other forms of art should be appreciated, right? If filmmakers have no choice but to place advertisements in their films, they can at least take solace in marketers’ clever ways to integrate their products into the works. In other words, if we can’t avoid ads, we might as well enjoy ones that are so seamlessly woven into our films that they’re invisible.

For the ones we can’t avoid, new options that let us customize our experience improve the often boring or monotonous ad-watching process. Hulu’s ad system, for example, allows users to tailor the commercial content to their own interests with feedback questions like “Was this ad relevant to your interests?”


BuzzFeed masterfully weaves ad content with their regular material.

In some cases, advertisements are so well-integrated that users don’t recognize them as “ads,” creating a more enjoyable experience for readers or viewers who are bothered by pop-up promotions or other ad content. BuzzFeed has mastered this style, dressing up ad content in the form of “clickbait” listicles or videos.

But that’s me playing Devil’s Advocate because despite the potential positives, “advertorial” content stands to cause more harm than good, psychologically speaking. As Duffy reminds us, “political economist Dallas Smythe conceptualized the audience as a commodity that is sold to advertisers in order to maintain the monopolistic system of capitalism” (88). We are all pawns in the Game of Ads, manipulated by marketers into making certain choices and buying certain goods. In this consumerist world, the only defense against the onslaught of advertisement efforts is to recognize the tactics being used against us. We may not care that Hulu wants us to buy a Lexus or that Marie Claire is paid by Sephora to market their perfumes, but we must recognize the business strategies and reasoning nonetheless if we are to maintain control over our thoughts and habits. By which I mean, in maintaining a level of awareness about the strategies companies use to “sneak” ads into our every day lives, we can approach life with a critical outlook.

Because if seamless integration eliminates the boundary between “real” and “fake,” to the point where we become unable to tell the difference, we may become so accustomed to advertisements that we stop noticing them altogether. If we stop looking for their tactics, we’ll start falling for their tricks, shifting the definition of digital media into a far more dangerous category.


Duffy, Brooke Erin. Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age. Urbana: U of Illinois, 2013. Print.

Featured image via Flickr.


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