The Potential for Exposure to Ads, Brands, Sponsors,
and Symbols in Editorial Photographs: A Longitudinal
Examination of Sports Illustrated
Kevin L. Keenan
James V. Pokrywczynski
College of Journalism
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
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Submitted to Research Paper Competition
Advertising Division -- AEJMC
March 31, 1995
Among the most controversial and anxiously discussed topics in both the
scholarly and professional literatures of advertising in the last few
has been the direction that the future of the field will take. The
opinion of some alarmists is that traditional mass media advertising is in
irreversible decline (The advertising industry, 1990; Rust & Oliver,
Spending patterns indicate there may be validity to such concerns as
measured media advertising revenues have been flat or in decline for
product categories (Spending by category, 1994).
It has also been suggested that advertising agencies are likely to become
obsolete in their structures and functions by the turn of the century
(Cappo, 1992; Mathews, 1995). The subject of integrated marketing
communications has received much lip service as the salvation of agencies
for the future, but in practice few advertisers or agencies have
IMC approach (Cleland, 1995). Most analysts' descriptions of overall
conditions and forecasts for the advertising business are not very
Others have been more optimistic in their predictions, claiming that
advertising is about to turn the corner after a period of reduced
and that the doomsayers have overstated the industry's problems
or that agencies will by their very nature adjust to new circumstances and
prosper (Rosenshine, 1995). There are limited data to suggest the
advertising industry may be making at least a temporary recovery (Elliott,
Whatever the outcome of the debates and recommendations about where
advertising is headed, it seems evident that marketers will look beyond
traditional paid advertising messages in communicating with existing
potential customers. Whether as part of the province of conventional
agencies, as territory for newer integrated marketing communications
agencies, or handled by clients in-house, a range of promotional tactics
may soon outstrip media advertising in terms of importance and budget
One group of practices that has attracted particular attention and
research interest as non-advertising elements of the promotion mix involves
various means of exposing consumers to a brand or product in
entertainment, programming, or editorial environments. These include
product placement in films (Karrh, 1995), in video games (Pope, 1994),
in television shows (Hume, 1990). In some cases a marketer will pay
have their brand shown or used, while in others there is no payment
required and the resulting exposures might be considered a form of free
publicity. As product placement has become more widely employed,
of legality (Critics seek FTC, 1991) and effectiveness (Vollmers &
Mizerski, 1994) have been raised by activists and scholars.
An area that seems to have escaped the notice of most who have studied or
commented on product placement and alternatives to media advertising
exposure resulting from a product's inclusion in news or editorial
photographs in the print media. The coverage of news events by newspapers
and magazines is commonly accompanied by photos of people and scenes.
these photos also show an identifiable product, logo, brand name, or even
an advertisement, the result is the print equivalent of movie or
Any actual effects of exposure to such a photograph will likely be
different than those coming from exposure to movie and broadcast placement
scenes in the same way that print and tv advertisements differ in what
can achieve. Other points to consider in beginning to evaluate the impact
and prevalence of what might be thought of as "print placements" include
the matter of audience involvement levels with news photos as compared
ads and the fact that journalistic ethics probably preclude print
ments ever being available on a paid basis.
Questions related to such issues deserve a place on marketing and
communication research agendas in the near future. For purposes of the
present paper, the primary interest is in examining the extent to which
editorial photographs include brands, ads, symbols or other
references to particular marketers. The frequency, size, and settings
these items in one magazine, Sports Illustrated, will be studied over
to provide an initial description of the phenomenon and to give some
estimation of the volume and potential for exposure to this form of
The choice of Sports Illustrated is based on the feeling that magazine
production quality is superior to that of newspapers and the color and
clarity of objects shown in magazine photographs will be enhanced.
is also an existing literature on the inclusion of ads and brands in
on television (Pokrywczynski, 1993) and the use of Sports Illustrated will
allow some cross-media comparisons of sports based content.
To obtain magazine news photos for analysis, sample composite years were
constructed by selecting one full issue of Sports Illustrated per
each of three years, 1974, 1984, and 1994. Sports Illustrated is a weekly
publication, so for each year, one of the four or five January issues was
randomly selected, one of the February issues was randomly selected,
issue was randomly selected from March, from April, and so on. This
procedure ensured that all months and sports seasons would be represented
and provided a manageable sample of 36 issues (12 from each year).
All editorial photographs were examined for evidence of identifiable
brands and products. Specifically, placement of logos, advertisements of
different types, and sponsorships were noted. Each photo containing
placement was also coded for the product categories or type of marketers
pictured, the sport involved, and the setting (sport in action,
or away from setting of sport). The area or size of each photo and of
every placement was measured in millimeters.
Coding categories were established based on a pretest of a subsample of
photographs. One individual was trained and coded all items.
reliability was assessed by having that individual recode a portion of
photos and an inter-coder reliability measure was calculated by using
second coder on a different subsample. In all cases, reliability
coefficients were above .90 and the single coder's decisions were used in
the final data set.
Photographs in the magazine issues studied contained a total of 550
placements. In 1974, there were 41 such photo placements. The number
to 108 in 1984 and 401 in 1994.
For the entire sample, 468 or 85 percent of the placements showed the
brand, ad, or logo in the setting of a sport in action, such as during
playing of a game or event. Fifty-nine (almost 11 percent) were set
game or event location but away from action, such as during a timeout or
post-game interview outside of a stadium. The remaining 23 placements
(just over four percent) showed settings completely removed from any
site or sport location, such as in-home shots of athletes or business
The kinds of marketers receiving print photograph placements are listed in
Table 1. By far the most common placements in Sports Illustrated are for
athletic apparel and equipment. Combined, these two categories
408 or nearly 75 percent of the total.
Table 1 about here
A summary of the sports being reported on when editorial photographs
include placements is given in Table 2. As indicated there, NFL Football
and NHL Hockey are the leaders with each being the sport for 82 of the
placements or about 15 percent of the full sample. Eleven different
are represented at least twenty times.
Table 2 about here
Table 3 shows the actual type of placements found, their frequency, and
average size in the photographs. Visible clothing and equipment logos
by far the most common with 215 (39 percent) and 150 (27 percent)
occurrences respectively. The largest placements are those in the form of
temporary advertisements inside a stadium, such as the banners
hung over the scorers' table at NBA basketball games (387 square
millimeters), and advertisements placed on scoreboards at sports arenas and
stadiums (324 square millimeters).
Table 3 about here
Further breakdowns of size by year, type of marketer, sport, setting, and
the crosstabulation permutations for these variables are not provided
As an initial and exploratory query into the topic, it is felt that
univariate results are the most informative and useful.
Discussion and Conclusions
It is clear that at least in Sports Illustrated, marketers receive
intended or unintended placement in editorial photographs. Over the twenty
year period studied, such placements have increased nearly ten-fold. The
total of 401 placements in the 12 issue sample for 1994 is an average
over 33 per issue, as compared to only three and one-half per issue in
From the perspective of a marketer seeking potential exposures and free
publicity via such placements, this increase might seem encouraging.
Whether due to changes in the publication's use of photography, its
editorial policy, or factors that marketers have some control over
themselves, there are far more ads, brands, sponsors, and marketing symbols
shown in news photos than there were in the past. In fact, while there is
no way to test the idea with the data reported here, if these numbers
continue to grow there may soon be reason to worry about clutter among
different types of placements.
The likelihood of placement in Sports Illustrated is greatest for those
marketers who can establish a presence in the midst of action at
scenes. The fact that over 95 percent of the placement photos were
the location of a sporting activity and most of those were taken with
activity in progress has obvious implications for brands and marketers
going after placement exposures. Quite simply, the closer to the center
a news story, or in these cases a sporting event, the better the chances
of being seen.
Similarly, the kinds of marketers receiving placements seems related to
their natural centrality to the news matter being reported on. For
stories, those products and brands that are themselves a part of the
appear to have a huge advantage. Thus, while a wide range of
were represented in Sports Illustrated, it is no surprise that athletic
apparel and athletic equipment both have over ten times as many
as the next largest category, tires/oil/auto supplies. Innovative
approaches and unexpected settings might have some limited payoff to
marketers trying to secure print placements, but for the most part
placements should be consistent with the subject matter of a photograph and
publication. The same principles and conclusions would probably hold if a
marketer were to think of placements in a audience targeting context.
In looking at which sports contain the most placements, it is interesting
to note that the top three sports, NFL Football, NHL Hockey, and Major
League Baseball represent three distinct sport seasons (Fall, Winter,
Summer respectively). Going further down the list, there is very
seasonality, with opportunities existing for placement exposure
the year. For most sports, coverage of professional leagues and
includes more placements than coverage of the same sport on the college
amateur level. Whether this finding is due to editorial decisions of
is newsworthy or to the more commercial nature of professional sports
beyond the scope of this paper but definitely deserves consideration
marketers hoping for sports related placement exposures.
A final variable in this study is the size of the placements shown in
editorial photographs. The size of a placement is important in the same
sense that the size of a paid advertisement is important. That is,
exposures are more likely to be noticed and more likely to have some
It is possible that placement items that are in reality quite small might
occupy more space than larger items when shown in a photograph. For
instance, the small logo tag on the side of a baseball hat might literally
appear larger than life in a photo that is a full page headshot of an
athlete, whereas the logo on the side of an 18 wheel beer truck would
appear tiny in a quarter page photo of an entire city block. Overall,
however, the placements found in Sports Illustrated are in proportion to
their true size. The largest ones are for stadium and scoreboard
advertisements and the smallest are ads and logos on clothing. The
implication here is that while small logos and brand symbols appear as
placements with greater frequency, they are not likely to provide the
size of items that are indeed large in reality.
In conclusion, this paper has offered some first cut findings and ideas
about the inclusion of placements or identifiable brands and marketers
photographs used to report on news stories in Sports Illustrated. It
documented an increase in the phenomenon and provided basic
Future research should build on this study by using other magazines or
newspapers and should turn to questions of what audience effects
to such placements might have. As advertising practitioners attempt
redefine and expand their roles, print placements might be an area for
greater involvement and would seem to fit within the realm of integrated
Cappo, J. (1992, December 7). Agencies: Change or die.
Advertising Age, pp. 26, 47.
Cleland, K. (1995, February 27). Few wed marketing,
communications. Advertising Age, p. 10
Critics seek FTC action on products as movie stars. (1991,
May 31). The New York Times, p. D1.
Elliott, S. (1994, June 15). Ad spending forecast is revised
upward. New York Times, p. C1.
Hubris and humble pie. (1994, August 27). The Economist, pp. 55, 58.
Hume, S. (1990, January 29). Free plugs supply ad power.
Advertising Age, p. 6.
Karrh, J. A. (1995, March). Brand placement in feature films:
The practitioners' view. Paper presented to American Academy
of Advertising Conference, Norfolk, VA.
Mathews, J. (1995, March 13). Ad industry pledges to defend its tv
turf. Washington Post, D2.
Pokrywczynski, J. (1993). An assessment of the exposure impact of
arena advertising displays and implications for leisure events
planners. Journal of Hospitality and Leisure Marketing, 1(4),
Pope, K. (1994, December 5). Product placements creep into video
games. The Wall Street Journal, p. B1.
Rosenshine, A. (1995, March 20). Advertising's demise greatly
exaggerated. Advertising Age, p. 15.
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of advertising. Journal of Advertising, 23(4), 71-77.
Spending by category and brand classes. Mediaweek, February 7,
1994, p. 18.
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1990, pp. 1-18.
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into the effectiveness of product placements in films.
Proceedings of the American Academy of Advertising, pp. 97-102.
Types of Marketers Shown
Type of marketer Frequency
Athletic apparel/shoes 219
Athletic equipment 189
Tires/oil/auto supplies 18
Business supplies/services 13
Soft drinks 12
Credit cards 7
Gasoline companies 5
Food brands 5
Nonathletic apparel brand 3
Fast food 3
Phone company 2
Car rental 2
Placements by Sport
Sport Number of photos with placements
NFL Football 82
NHL Hockey 82
Major League Baseball 58
Auto Racing 48
College Football 43
NBA Basketball 42
Pro Tennis 29
Track and Field 21
PGA Golf 12
College Basketball 9
Olympic Hockey 8
Minor League Baseball 7
Olympic Basketball 3
Nonsport Photo 2
Speed Skating 1
Bicycle Racing 1
Amateur Golf 1
USFL Football 1
Frequency and Size of Placement Types
Type of placement Frequency Mean size in square mm
Clothing logo 215 49
Equipment logo 150 39
Ad on athlete clothing 71 48
Ad on automobile 32 89
Temporary stadium ad 26 387
Event sponsor 23 166
Ad on nonathlete clothing 11 32
Permanent stadium ad 10 139
Scoreboard ad 8 324
Other 4 190