Only months after the Staples Center special issue brought howls of protest from the editorial side, leading to an internal investigation followed by a front page mea culpa, the Los Angeles Times may have ignited another “church vs. state” firestorm. This weekend, the recently sold metro daily debuts a “provocative” promotional campaign, dubbed “Connecting Us to the Times,” whose ads include a sunbathing couple alongside a dead soldier in Kosovo, traffic on the 405 next to a military tank parade in Pakistan and women in bikinis next to Muslim women in chadors. The ads, created by Ground Zero Advertising, will start appearing Sunday on TV, radio, buses and billboards as well as in the Times. The campaign, which will run through September, has already spurred a newsroom petition asking management to drop the ads on grounds that images are offensive and insensitive.
“The goal of our campaign is to connect with readers on an emotional level and get them to read the paper on a daily basis,” said Dennis Shirley, vice president of marketing. Times spokesman Mike Lange denied that the images are offensive: “The ads are provocative, but they don’t make fun of anyone.”
The campaign comes a month after parent Times Mirror Co. stunned the newspaper by agreeing to an $8 billion buyout by Tribune Co. and six months after the Times published its special Staples Center section without disclosing that it was sharing ad revenues with the retailer. Ground Zero has previously created campaigns for clients including Gloss.com, Virgin Cola and Atlantis Resort.