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'Life on Mars,' 'Dexter,' and Magazine Covers

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  October 7, 2008 06:03 AM

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"Dexter" returned to Showtime last month with an ad campaign that found our hero on the covers of many popular magazines, including Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Esquire, and US. Or, rather, the fake covers of these magazine. The campaign was really clever and attention-getting, with mock cover lines to match each magazine -- for instance, "Dexter's 5 Signs You're Dating a Serial Killer" in US.

These tongue-in-cheek ads also matched tone of the series. Dexter Morgan is a chameleon, and he changes colors to fit in in different milieus. Seeing Dexter pop up in the realm of Wired and then GQ and then Vanity Fair was perfectly Dexter. And then, the ad campaign lifted Dexter and "Dexter" to the iconic level where, I believe, they belong.

But still: Even though the covers are marked "Advertisement" in little letters, and the logos read "Dexter" instead of "Esquire" or "DQ" instead of "GQ," the potential does exist for some people to be fooled -- not consciously, perhaps, but subconsciously, on that level where things register unexamined. I'd hate to see magazines continually lending the looks of their logos and covers to products in this way, and further blurring the lines between editorial content and ads. What if a TV show, say "Desperate Housewives," lent its signature opening credits to a soap company? That could get a little obnoxious, don't you think?

I started to worry when I saw that ABC is taking a similar approach for "Life on Mars," the time-warp cop series that premieres Thursday night. The "Life on Mars" campaign mocks up full-page, 1970s versions of magazine covers. On the back of this week's issue of TV Guide, for instance, is a what looks like a slightly dated TV Guide cover devoted to the actors from the show, with the headline "'Life on Mars' premieres years ahead of its time."

The Rolling Stone version of the "Life on Mars" ad is more obviously a joke, even though the mock-up lays directly over the real cover. The mock-up is from March 23, 1973, the caricatured faces belong to Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, and the cover lines pertain to Alice Cooper and Evel Knievel. But still, the classic Rolling Stone logo is deployed to promote.

Not that ABC is copying Showtime -- the "Life on Mars" campaign ran in the U.K. last year, in support of the BBC version of the series. Still, the two campaigns have me wondering: Do magazines devalue their trademarks by allowing them to be appropriated?

What do you think?

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6 comments so far...
  1. I realize the magazine industry (well, all of the print industry) is suffering right now. Advertising dollars are down, subscription rates are falling...but I completely disagree with these cover ads.

    Rolling Stone is already changing their entire format to adjust for these financial burdens. I feel like having these mock covers are fun and sometimes witty, but it was confusing. I realized that the Rolling Stone cover was a joke, but the concept still wasn't there. These changes have me very worried to graduate with a magazine design degree.

    Posted by Philip October 7, 08 09:08 AM
  1. It keeps me up at night worrying, I can tell you that.

    Posted by mmennonno October 7, 08 12:36 PM
  1. Was that a gotcha comment?

    Posted by Matthew GIlbert October 7, 08 12:48 PM
  1. "lent it's signature opening credits to a soap company? "

    That's "its."

    Posted by Madra Collins October 7, 08 01:04 PM
  1. Thanks. I corrected....

    Posted by Matthew Gilbert October 7, 08 01:59 PM
  1. I work in advertising and kind of like the fun stuff I have been seeing. Life on Mars is al over the place today... there is an alternative hopepage with news from 1973, they took over a local NYC paper, their website is from back in the 70s... I think its fun and creative and a good way to create buzz.

    Posted by Sandra October 9, 08 02:34 PM

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