Nokia Lumia 1020 Ads Blur Line Between Marketing and Editorial in Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated magazine ran a number of images taken with the AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone in two of its August issues, followed by full-page Lumia ads. CIO.com's Al Sacco think SI should have been clearer about the line between ads and editorial content. Here's why.

A few weeks ago, I received a Nokia Lumia 1020 review unit in the mail. The device is Nokia's current flagship Windows Phone smartphone, and though I'm honestly not a big fan of Microsoft's mobile OS, Nokia makes great hardware. And the Lumia 1020 device has one notably-unique feature: A 41-megapixel digital camera.

NokiaLumia1020_SI_1_small.jpg
Image from August 19 issue of Sports Illustrated (Click to enlarge)

The first thing I did after setting up my Lumia 1020 was experiment with the camera. I eventually wrote an in-depth comparison of the Lumia 1020's camera and the digital shooters on two other high-end smartphones. (Check out that article here.)

I've since put the Lumia 1020 to the side, but the device and its cool camera still have my attention. So an ongoing ad campaign in Sports Illustrated (SI) magazine quickly caught my eye.

A couple of months ago, I randomly started receiving SI in the mail. I have no idea why; I never subscribed, as far as I know. And I haven't been charged for it. But that's beside the point of this post. I've been reading SI, and among the first few pages of the Aug. 19 issue was a two-page photo spread composed of four images of baseball parks taken at AT&T Park in San Francisco, O.co Coliseum in Oakland and Citi Field in Queens.

The images were all very cool looking, (see above image, which was also taken with a Lumia 1020) but it wasn't just the photos that caught my eye - it was the text that accompanied the pictures. That text explained that the images had all been captured by "SI photographers...shooting with the AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020."

Huh. Why, I wondered, would SI photogs be using Lumia 1020 devices to capture images for the magazine? Did AT&T and/or Nokia pay them to capture and use the images? And if so, why aren't the images clearly marked as advertisements? (Or why aren't they unclearly marked, with barely-readable text or something?)

I continued flipping through that issue of SI, and a few more pages in, I came to a full-page Lumia 1020 ad from AT&T. (See image below.) Convenient, no?

AT&T Nokia Lumia Ad in Sports Illustrated
AT&T Nokia Lumia Ad in Sports Illustrated

The whole thing kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but I forgot about it until a week later when I opened up the Aug. 26 issue of SI and found the same thing: Another photograph "captured with an AT&T Nokia Lumia 1020" - this time of the Los Angeles Angels' bench and Angels disappointment star Josh Hamilton - followed by, you guessed it, another AT&T Lumia 1020 ad.

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Image from August 26 issue of Sports Illustrated (Click to enlarge)

I'm a professional journalist, and I work for a large publishing company. I understand the necessary relationship between the media and advertisers, and I do not "hate" ads or advertisers. To the contrary, ads pay my bills, at least to some extent. And I just took on a new car payment, so I really appreciate those ads at this point.

I also understand that the traditional line between ads and editorial content is blurring. Gone are the days when you could look at an ad and know just what it was, or when you could expect to see high-quality editorial produced by unbiased journalists separated from marketing material. The equation just isn't a black and white one.

But these photos in SI seem like a new extreme. I cannot say for sure whether or not the images were paid for by AT&T and/or Nokia. (I have reached out to SI for comment, and I'll update this post accordingly when or if I get a response.) But the images sure seem like some kind of deceptive advertising, and as such, I don't like them. Assuming they are paid for - and that's just what I'm assuming - it's too bad AT&T, Nokia and SI didn't just mark them as advertising. The images are quite cool, and I don't think it would have made much of a difference to readers if they came with some fine print.

But as is, they feel manipulative, and that's probably not going to compel SI readers to run out and buy Lumia 1020 smartphones, great camera or no great camera.

AS

Al Sacco covers Mobile and Wireless for CIO.com. Follow Al on Twitter @ASacco. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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