The current slogan for American Airlines in its New York, Chicago and Los Angeles hub cities is “Going for Great,” which could just as easily describe the premium front-page placement of one of its ads in the Oct. 5, 2015, edition of the Los Angeles Times.
Unlike the widely used strip ads that typically run across the bottom of Page One in most newspapers, or the tab-ons that can be peeled away, American Airlines’s colorful ad — touting its five stars for “premium experience from LAX” — essentially became a fourth story, embedded with articles on California’s sunny jobs outlook, GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina and the U.S. being accused of war crimes.
In making the ad an attractive but unavoidable part of the front page, the Times ran the risk of overshadowing major news.
“In recent years, we’ve seen small advertisements on the tops and bottoms of front pages, as well as full-page advertising ‘wraps’ around front pages,” said Kathryn Wilmot, archivist of the Newseum’s print news collection. “But today’s L.A. Times differs in that the stories appear inset into the advertisement. The advertisement commands the attention of the consumer, diminishing the impact of the news reports.”
Ads on the front page left the station years ago. According to Wilmot, in the 18th and 19th centuries, newspapers frequently included front-page promotions that provided readers with information about dry goods for sale, public auctions or the sailing of commercial and passenger vessels. In fact, in some early U.S. newspapers, “advertiser” was part of the name. Mastheads carried titles such as The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, The New York Packet and American Advertiser and Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of an ad occupying prime real estate on the cover appeared April 27, 1882, in Missouri’s Neosho Times. The banner headline —“Jesse James Assassinated!” — was nearly lost amid a full page of promotions for the local department store.
“In the dress goods department, we have all the newest, latest and most desirable styles out from the finest silk to the cheapest calico,” the ad stated. “Our clothing and hat department is immense, and by looking through this department, you will be convinced of the fact that neither man nor boy can fail to be suited in style, make and price. … In conclusion, we will say, that it is no longer necessary to send abroad for anything you may need in our line for we assure you we have everything you may need.”
This was great news for bargain shoppers, but bad news for readers seeking the latest on Jesse James. For that startling information, they had to look inside the paper.
In an effort to boost their sagging bottom lines, modern newspapers began selling front-page ads in the early part of the 21st century. The New York Times ran its first front-page display in 2009. So far, the ads in that paper have anchored the bottom.
Whether the Los Angeles Times, which will begin major staff cuts this week, is starting a new trend is yet to be seen. In the meantime, American Airlines went for great on the paper’s front page and soared.