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June 2003

Brazilian Press: Lolita to the Rescue

Advertisers don't want circulation but money to ensure their survival.
The middle or upper-middle classes, who buy expensive items, never stopped
buying papers. Grocery stores and electronics/appliance stores know
that consumers will only come back when the economy improves.

Alberto Dines

The Bolha group (Globo—Folha de S.Paulo) is back with a new promotion, this one a collectible: a library of novels, or 30 "landmarks of contemporary literature". Readers will get the first volume for free and the others will be sold at R$ 11.50 (US$ 4).

The lure—and an irresistible one—will be Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. I wouldn't call the book a literary "landmark", but it's definitely an opportunity to reach pinnacles of readership, especially when you consider the fact that it will be a gift.

Moral degenerates of all sizes are sure to expend the mere R$ 3.50 (US$ 1.20) of the cover price of the newspaper in exchange for some indescribable moments, but there's no guarantee that they will be willing to invest, Sunday after Sunday, in the library in question. No big deal. The partners wish to blab about the feat of selling a million lolitas together. What we have here is quality journalism: newspapers in the trash and the unforgettable woman-child on the bed-side table.

What could be the benefit of this investment? To raise circulation back above the half million mark? On the first Sunday, they'll get there. Newsstands might actually run out of the paper. After that, it's another story. Circulation is not what advertisers are after. What they want is the money to ensure their survival. In São Paulo, the biggest advertisers are in the real estate business and all those high-rise residential or commercial launchings that justify a whole page or a double page of the newspaper are aimed at the middle or upper-middle classes who never stopped buying papers. Grocery stores and electronics/appliance stores know that consumers will only come back when the economic situation gets out of the tight spot.

It's money thrown out the window, at a time when journalistic companies are counting their pennies and firing their best staff.

The bombshell promotion of the old-new partners coincides with another throatcutting event in the newsroom of Valor Econômico, the flagship of the Bolha group.

To the drumbeat... of the register

The ombudsman of Folha de S.Paulo resumed in his Sunday column (5/25) a topic on which this Observatory has touched several times: the use of journalists as publicity boys. It's more serious than professional journalists doubling as press advisers.

Bernardo Ajzenberg comments on the actual case of a columnist from Folha who participated in an advertising campaign for a real estate venture, all against the express rules contained in the Manual de Redação (Manual for Editorial Room Staff). Judging by the emphasis of the comment, it's easy to smell trouble.

But the ombudsman was unable to notice that in the same Sunday edition, on the cover of a classified section (Vehicles-1), two reporters who had covered the Iraq war participated ostensively in a promotional story created to launch the big Humvee jeep in the Brazilian market. A story with the same purpose was published in other automobile sections. In all of them one can find the express interest of the representatives to sell both the military version and the civil version of the fancy car.

It's important to register that the story, as a service, is excellent. But it was printed in a section of the newspaper which is distinctly commercial and does not hide its promotional content. If the legal counselors of Folha do not find condemning clauses in the Manual, the columnist criticized by the ombudsman can demand equal treatment.

Once more, the ombudsman of Folha does a great service to journalism. The use of mezzo-journalists as salespeople is becoming habitual. In this no man's land, anything goes. Unibanco's advertising agency has aired TV commercials with a journalist-presenter and a social columnist. And the idea was not to promote Fome Zero (Zero Hunger).


Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR—Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. He also writes a column on cultural issues for the Rio daily Jornal do Brasil. You can reach him by email at obsimp@ig.com.br  

Translated by Tereza Braga, email: tbragaling@cs.com 

This article was originally published in Observatório da Imprensa — www.observatoriodaimprensa.com.br 




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