NYT Reprises Archives Tactic for HBO

The New York Times Co. quickly is finding that its online archives are of interest to advertisers, signing a second unit of AOL Time Warner to an effort centering around the archives.

All month, AOL’s Home Box Office unit has been advertising its made-for-cable film, “The Laramie Project,” across NYTimes.com — including a placement on the site’s heavily-trafficked front page.

The ads direct visitors to a special section of the New York Times‘ archives, in which stories and op-ed pieces about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard have been collected.

The campaign is the second launched on behalf of an advertiser by New York Times Digital and centering on the archives. Last year, the company approached AOL-owned New Line Cinema about creating archives in conjunction with the release of New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings.”

That effort ultimately culminated in December’s launch of “The Tolkien Archives,” a collection of reviews, editorials and news items on Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien and Hobbit-mania throughout the years. NYTD spokesperson Christine Mohan said the “Rings” effort garnered about 1.5 million page views by the time of the film’s release that month.

Spending was not disclosed for either campaign, though spokespeople said the efforts were priced on a sponsorship basis rather than on impressions.

In mining back issues to repurpose online in a sponsored environment, the campaigns stand as a relatively innovative way of monetizing site traffic beyond standard media buys. However, there is some concern that they represent a transgression of the line between editorial and advertising, since the sponsored section uses the font and layout of the paper’s news sections.

NYTD officials dismiss such claims, pointing to labels on the archives that the content has been collected by advertising staff and paid for by HBO. Likewise, ads indicate that the section was “made possible by HBO Films,” and the archives — while generally maintaining the look of the paper’s news sections — are shaded brown.

“The only answer to that position is that we really are careful to label these as advertising … to make that label explicit,” Mohan said. “We feel it’s very important to separate the editorial from the advertising message.”

“A good analogy for print is similar to if an advertiser decided to purchase a multi-page advertisement section that would have a clear label at the top … and which would run articles run before in that newspaper,” she continued. “How it would be put together would be very similar. It would be put together by business folks, and not the editorial team. That’s the same structure we followed for both the ‘Tolkien Archives’ and the ‘Laramie Project’.”

Concerns aside, it’s likely that NYTimes.com will launch another such campaign in the near future. Mohan said that the site’s sales staff has made the offering a part of their standard pitch, and is having “ongoing conversations” with potential advertisers.

“It works very well with the entertainment advertisers because we have this rich archive,” she said. “‘The Tolkien Archives’ went all the way back to the ’30s and ’40s.”

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