By: Joe Strupp
When the Fund for Animals, a nonprofit animal-rights group, wanted to kick off its latest campaign against fur sales, organizers decided a full-page ad in a national newspaper would be just the ticket. But finding a paper to publish the message, which targeted retailer Neiman Marcus, proved harder than they thought.
“It was very surprising,” said Jennifer Allen, program coordinator for the New York-based group, which asked seven major dailies about running the ad, but found only three that would take it as is (a fourth accepted, then rejected it). The ad included an open letter to Neiman Marcus asking the company to stop selling fur and citing the “extreme animal cruelty” that comes from fur traps and animal breeding practices.
The group first approached USA Today, which agreed on Nov. 22 to run the ad on Nov. 29, according to Heidi Prescott, the fund’s national director. She said a $116,479 check was sent to the Gannett Co. Inc. flagship, but that it was returned after the paper’s executives changed their minds.
“I thought that was extremely unprofessional,” Prescott said. “That left us scrambling.”
Steven Anderson, USA Today director of communications, declined to comment on this particular case, but said the paper generally refuses ads that are libelous or offensive or that promote something illegal.
After the USA Today affair, fund representatives approached six other newspapers. The New York Times refused the ad, while The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe were willing to take it, but with changes, Prescott said. “The Globe did not want ‘Neiman Carcass’ in the title, and the Morning News would not take the text,” she said.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post each agreed to accept the ad, said Prescott, who chose to place it in the Post, where it ran Nov. 29. “They never questioned the ad, and they are one of the top papers in the country,” she said.
The Journal, the Morning News, and the Globe did not return calls seeking comment, while The New York Times issued a short statement to E&P explaining that it refused the ad because “it was unfairly disparaging to Neiman Marcus.”
Stephen Hills, Post president and general manager, said the paper ran the ad after allowing its legal department to review it. “We take a lot of ads where we don’t always agree with what is said,” he told E&P. “We don’t feel it is our place to make that judgment.” Calling Neiman Marcus “a large and valued customer,” Hills said he had received no reaction from the retailer.
Jerry Bluestein, L.A. Times advertising-standards coordinator, said: “We like advocacy advertising. Anti-fur ads, pro-fur ads: It contributes to the marketplace of ideas.”