The actor, hipster icon and former Ghostbuster Bill Murray was busy tending bar in Brooklyn this week for the opening of his son Homer’s new restaurant, 21 Greenpoint. The New York Times has a strict policy separating advertising from editorial coverage. Wow, that was a non sequitur, right? But here’s the thing: in an article in the Times designed to go viral on the back of the senior Mr. Murray’s enduring popularity, there is what appears to be a product placement advertisement for Slovenia Vodka — plopped right in the middle. (“His first order of business was to grab a bottle of Slovenia Vodka from behind the bar.”) The article doesn’t say it’s sponsored by Slovenia Vodka, but the spirit is mentioned by name twice (once with a link to its site) and then also included in a recipe at the bottom for a cocktail. (One that might presumably be made with any of the hundreds of vodkas on the market?)
On the internet, deciphering the difference between a journalistic choice and a paid brand placement has long been a difficult calculation. But the New York Times has stayed mainly above the fray — at the very least mentioning when a brand was being featured as part of a promotion. Here you have a fun-loving article worthy of the fun-loving man it features — no problem there. It’s just at the end a reader is as sure that Bill Murray favors Slovenia Vodka as a viewer of Lost in Translation knows Murray’s character’s preference for Suntory Whiskey. At least in the movie, you knew he was being paid to promote it.