Commentary

Hard To Be Offended By Ad You Can't Find

When I read that Time Inc. planned to put ads on the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated, I was expecting some of that copy that notoriously festoons the covers of women's magazines like "Ten Ways To Give Your Guy A Good Time While Cooking Dinner" -- but instead, was profoundly disappointed that I missed the ad altogether because it ran in tiny type on the mailing label. If I were Verizon, I would ask for a make-good.  Who in the hell ever reads a mailing label (unless you are checking to see if those free ones that come from various charities have spelled your name right this time)?

Nevertheless, there was the usual sturm und drang about how this transparently desperate move violated the American Society of Magazine Editors’ first editorial guideline, which admonishes: Don’t Print Ads on Covers: The cover is the editor and publisher’s brand statement. Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine.

Several upset observers said this was the first breach that will eventually and finally collapse the wall between magazine publishing church and state, and that future covers would "look like NASCAR cars, completely covered in ads."  That of course assumes that editors fail to craft "native" ads that blend seamlessly into the prevailing cover content. You know, like photoshopping Colonel Sanders in with Ukraine separatists or Martha Stewart among those watching their houses burn down in a California wildfire.

One wonders if Time features a cover shot of a GM auto wrapped around a tree, does it then get to charge one of its agencies for an ad arguing that it's top-of-funnel brand awareness. Surely its digital team has a proprietary attribution model that proves the exposure resulted in new car purchases (if only by former GM owners realizing that it’s a matter of time before WHATEVER is in their garage will be recalled.)

Personally, I don't care what magazines put on their covers (the ad trades routinely hide their real covers with wraps that make you think their editors are endorsing whoever has paid for the ad).  I stopped buying magazines on the newsstand about 20 years ago (and only pause once a year to see who SI features on its February swimsuit issue) so go ahead and shoot that dog if you must.

The saddest part of the story was Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine (who is also on the ASME board) trying to spin the rationale for the tiny mailing label ad by saying: “We want to be entrepreneurial... we want to be creative. We want to do things that make sense for all of our stakeholders, including readers, viewers in digital space, advertisers and others.”

You would think that somebody who has spent a career trying to uncover the who, what, where, when and why of breaking news would have learned that corporate-speak is meaningless. He might have maintained a sheen of credibility by saying, "Are you kidding, we are getting our asses handed to us by digital and cable TV -- and even if we charge 100 times as much as we are now for that nearly invisible 'cover ad,' it's just a matter of time before we cross that river Jordan as an industry. Give me a break. I'm just trying to buy a little time here."

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