To draw attention to the second-season launch of its popular drama, “The Blacklist,” NBC has convinced no fewer than 11 of the nation’s best-known magazines to put the series’ star, James Spader, on their covers. Well, sort of.
Starting this week, magazines like Playboy and Wired will burnish back covers that appear to make Raymond “Red” Reddington, the anti-hero at the center of “The Blacklist,” the subject. In days to come, New York, GQ, People, The New Yorker, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Us Weekly, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone will all feature covers starring the character – all as part of an ad campaign from NBC to drum up attention for the show’s new season, which starts September 22. The covers, each customized for the magazine on which they appear, are ads; the real covers will be hidden underneath. Only Playboy will put the ad in its front; the rest will affix them to the back.
NBC has good reason to promote “The Blacklist.” The show, in which Spader’s Reddington character helps a rookie FBI profiler find criminals, was one of the few breakout hits of last season, and NBC will attempt to move it after a run on Monday nights in 2014, where it enjoys a healthy audience lead-in from “The Voice,” to – in 2015 – Thursdays, where the Peacock has suffered a weakened slate in recent seasons.
In years past, consumer magazines and other print publishers might have avoided such stuff. While giving advertisers an overlay cover to place over the real one is a practice that has long been embraced by trade publications, it has been viewed more warily by their consumer-audience counterparts.
Indeed, in 2003, the American Society of Magazine Editors, an industry group that has long tried to maintain a separation between editorial and advertising, sent a warning letter to Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone, for allowing Chrysler’s Jeep to attach a fold-out ad featuring Angelina Jolie to a magazine cover that also sported the actress. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times raised eyebrows by running a front-page ad for NBC’s “Southland” that resembled a news article. The top of the column labeled the piece as an advertisement and NBC’s Peacock logo ran alongside the space.
Such practices may not cause as much furor in 2014, when more publishers are embracing so-called “native” advertising, or ads for online view that are made to look much like the publication that sports them. By allowing such stuff in digital realms, the media outlets have less support for keeping their print products sacrosanct. As TV networks allow their advertisers to insert products into TV shows and mentions of them into scripts – and enlist actors and actresses from the programs to help hype the goods in commercial breaks – print outlets face increased pressure to provide similar service. In 2013, ad pages among consumer magazines fell about 4%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, after an 8% drop in 2012.
As part of the pact, NBC will get stylized promotion in some of the country’s best-read periodicals. A cover attached to Wired will feature Spader’s character framed by red, yellow and green, along with the headline ‘Code Red!: How One Man Hacked His Way Into The Zeitgeist,” with tune-in information also provided. A cover placed on Playboy, draped in red, comes with the headline, “Top FBI Agents Bare All.” A cover affixed to an issue of Time will pronounce the Reddington character “Hit Man of The Year.” On most of the covers, the magazine’s name is changed to “Blacklist,” and many identify the covers as advertisements.
NBC said several of its media partners will help promote the show on their digital sites and via social media.
The network intends to use other avenues to call attention to the show. In New York City, for example, ads for “Blacklist” will be put up on buses and subways as well as on Times Square billboards. In Los Angeles, NBC will use “high profile wallscapes” on Sunset Boulevard, the 101 Freeway and the intersection of Highland and Franklin Avenues. NBC will also run a TV promo set to the AC/DC song “Back in Black” that will also appear on cable networks owned by parent NBCUniversal.
Already, ad buyers seem enthused about prospects for “The Blacklist” in the 2014-2015 season. The drama is expected to be one of the top generators of so-called “C3” ratings, or views within three days of the commercials that accompany the show. The measure is the basis of how advertisers pay for TV ads. When the show moves to Thursday in 2015, ad buyers expect the program to lose only a smidge of its “C3” audience. NBC will air a new episode of “The Blacklist” after its 2015 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIX to draw attention to the show’s new roost in the schedule.