On June 4, 2021, USA Today released its weekend print edition wrapped in a full-page ad that — though labeled as an advertisement — resembled the actual front page format of the paper and contained fake news reports about “half-human, half-animal children.” As Business Insider reported, the faux front page was “an advertisement in partnership with Netflix for its new show, ‘Sweet Tooth,’” whose protagonist is a young human-deer hybrid.
This form of advertising, while not new, is controversial. The Society for Professional Journalists code of ethics holds that ethical advertising should “distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”
Every day brings a new reason to be grateful I don’t work for Gannett anymore pic.twitter.com/RlD7kdTXfH
— Adam Weinstein (@AdamWeinstein) June 5, 2021
The execution of a stunt that puts fake newspaper stories on a page designed to look like the actual front page of the paper also appears to contradict the public-facing policies published by USA Today’s business department. USA Today’s “2020 Advertising Rate Card” (the most recent summary available on its website), lists the company’s “general advertising terms.” One policy item clearly states that “ads cannot resemble news or front page format of USA Today.”
A spokesperson for Gannett — the company that publishes USA Today — confirmed that the campaign was real, but did not answer Snopes’ question about the company’s published advertising policies, telling us by email only that “the campaign was clearly labeled an advertisement and adhered to our advertising guidelines and protocols.”
Because the campaign was confirmed by a Gannett spokesperson, we rate the claim that the June 4, 2021, weekend edition of USA Today was wrapped in an ad containing fake news stories about hybrid babies as “True.”