Between the Lines: Road & Track's Bentley Supplement

Some subscribers to Road and Track magazine have recently received a freebie publication bundled with their magazine: the Road and Track Guide to the Bentley Continental Flying Spur . Except for its smaller size and better paper quality, the supplement looks exactly like the main mag: typeface, layout and structure. It s written by Road and Track staffers and it contains the official Road and Track spec sheet. The supplement is, of course, an advertisement, bought and paid for by Bentley. This fact is not mentioned anywhere in the publication.

According to Richard T. Bisbee, Road and Track s Midwestern Advertising Director, the magazine s Custom Publishing division creates at least one such automotive supplement per year. Companies like Subaru, Saab and Chrysler have availed themselves of the service, shelling-out $1 to $3 per copy. When it comes to editorial, Bisbee makes no bones about who calls the shots: All the copy is approved by the advertiser.

As you d expect, the Bentley supplement s editorial is more fawning than a forest full of deer in spring. The majority of R&T s glossy paean to VW s Phaeton in tweeds was written by their Editor-At-Large John Lamm. Although it would be an exaggeration to say Lamm never met a car he didn t like, let s just say he produces terrific coffee table car books. That said, the supplement s text is well-written and low profile; the author lets the car s creators do all the spinning. Lamm s personality only intrudes once, when he takes a muffled pot shot at, of all things, Dr. Ing. Ulrich Eichorn s speech patterns:

Running Bentley engineering is something you dream of when you study automotive engineering. An interesting comment, given his German accent.
The supplement s other contributors are more polite to their paymasters and less reticent about trotting out the superlatives, which range from superb all the way to impressive . It s no wonder marketing maven Bisbee reports that manufacturers order thousands of supplemental supplements for their dealers.

The most important issue raised by the Bentley supplement is why Road and Track s editorial department would allow their style to be hijacked by its advertisers, without any obvious visual or editorial separation between the main mag and the supplement. We contacted Managing Editor Ellida Maki, who was not what you d call forthcoming on the topic: I m not going to answer that. I don t want to speak for this magazine on this subject. I m busy.

Ms. Maki promised someone would get back to us with a proper response to our inquiry. We look forward to providing an update.

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

Related:
Jalopnik Reviews: 2006 Bentley Continental Flying Spur, Part 1 [internal]