The ad for Fidelity Investments calls out the FidelityVoice branded content inside the magazine; FidelityVoice is a regular feature in Forbes’ print and online publications, appearing as part of Forbes’ BrandVoice native ad offerings.
The cover ad pointing readers to the FidelityVoice content is a small black box on the right side of the cover, including the FidelityVoice header and a tagline that reads: “Revving Up Your Retirement.”
The ad appears below cover teasers for regular editorial content about retirement planning, appearing in a light blue box. The ad placement is contextually relevant but also easily distinguishable from editorial content. However, it does not carry an explicit disclaimer identifying it, for example, as “sponsored content.”
Magazine publishers have been flirting with putting ads on covers for a while, generally by placing ads on fake covers, cover flaps or wraps.
Last May, Time Inc. placed small ads for Verizon on the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated magazines, located near the magazines’ mailing labels or barcodes. Like the Forbes native cover ad, the Verizon message referred readers to additional content inside the magazine.
While they may be unobtrusive, these ads would appear to depart from the American Society of Magazine Editors’ editorial guidelines, including the unambiguous directive “Don’t Print Ads on Covers.”
The ASME guidelines further clarify: “The cover is the editor and publisher’s brand statement. Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine.”
Those who believe the taint of money harms the purity of their editorial text need to stop taking money for their writing.
It is wrong for one set of stakeholders to force all others to bend to their will.. This includes Journalists, Editors, Marketers, Communicators, and even Consumers.
Wow, The American Society of Magazine Editors dictates that covers of magazines are for editorial content only. We can debate if native content is purely an ad, or purely content (editorial)... but this ASME dicate is as irrelevant as it is offensive and unethical. [We can also debate if a call-out to editorial & native content is actual content or just a call-out.]
The cover purity rule of ASME is irrelevant in our digital age of deep links and dark social. Most if not all of the publics will never see the "cover." It is offensive because it overreaches pushing aside the needs of other stakeholders.
It is less than ethical because it ignores two sets of stakeholders who have a direct financial interest in printed magazines: those who buy them and those who pay to have them printed.
The financial interests of owners and readers shouldn't supersede the interests of other stakeholders, but the financial health of a magazine is a direct expression of its sustainability. It is certainly in the interests of all stakeholders that a magazine operate sustainably and ethically.
Those who believe the taint of money harms the purity of their writing need to stop taking money for their columns... their refusal to accept payment for their writing will make the publication far more sustainable, and allow owners to further distance themselves from the "taint" of commercial speech.
Kudos to Forbes for understanding the complex needs of stakeholders and for refusing to put the needs of one set above the needs of the others.
No matter how one sugar coats it, this kind of thing signals a sign of desperation for many publishers in the magazine industry. What's next? Will advertisers demand---and get------ "editorials" praising their products or services---in exchange for a few ad pages bought at 40% off-card?
"Money Good, No Matter What"...Steve Forbes February 2015
It seems to me less of desperation and one of understanding that the world has changed, and with it the economics of publishing. A call out on cover of printed magazine surely will anger the ASME but I don' t think those who are buying Forbes will be similarly upset.
Buying and selling "editorials" is a different matter.. and all content editorial or otherwise, if sponsored, that sponsorship has to be disclosed or its' a violation of FTC regulations.
Harry, while I agree with you that the economics of publishing have changed, the root of the problem is the public's growing love affair with electronic media and a declining interest in reading printed matter----especially among the younger generation. Not surprisingly, advertisers are following this wave and trimming their print spending. What magazines need is not a few extra bucks obtained by selling ads on their covers----thereby tarnishing their image, just as TV and radio have done for ages-----what magazines need is a new business plan. Obviously, one avenue to exploit is digital----not just to sell readers on receiving their copies electronically, but more important, to develop unique digital content, garner significant digital audiences and sell advertisers digital video ads in appealing content that have the branding "punch" of TV commercials. It is encouraging to see that some publishers now understand this; the question is whether they have the vision and expertise to pull it off.
Heavy connect here to Bob Garfield's column today.
Ed, some common ground... I agree on the need of a new business plan, and even your claim about reading printed matter... but counter with the knowledge that the art of reading and writing is growing more popular through the ultimate understanding of the journalists belief that money distorts; the youth of today distrust all words bought and paid for... including words which someone has been paid to write. Code and words should be free (like beer) they may well proclaim.
I can't argue with that---the way you put it----Harry. The really sad thing about all of this is that even if every magazine sold off part of every cover to advertisers, the end result----in terms of total campaign advertising effectiveness and/or product sales---would be minimal since TV and digital will continue to get the lion's share of an average advertisers' media budget and provide 75-90% of the ad "weight". All that would result would be a feeding frenzy on the negotiating side as each agency tried to get more publishers to cave in on cover ads than rival shops---as a way to promote the agency's "clout" and expertise to gullible clients and new business targets. Ads on the covers of their publications are not going to save the magazine business, nor will they stop the ad page "bleeding" for most print editions.
Given that native advertising is an advertisement that matches the platform it is presented on, I do not think it is unethical for Forbes to be producing covers with Native Advertising. Although it does state that there should be no advertisements on covers because “the cover is the editors and publisher’s brand statement,” I think there is a difference between native advertising and simply putting an ad on the cover of a magazine. If the advertisement is relative to the magazine and the magazine publishes other advertisements in their magazine, I don’t see why not! Advertisements should be allowed on the cover because advertisements are a huge part of our digital age. Even if the reader is ignoring the advertisement, they are still subconsciously going to be able to gain recognition for the advertisement and relate that brand to the magazine. This will ultimately benefit the magazine and the brand if the two go hand in hand.
I think that it is ridiculous to think of a native ad as an unethical move on Forbes part. One must understand that the over all design and idea behind the magazine is still intact. Sure, there is a call to read certain content inside the magazine, however regardless of if or if not a person pays much mind to the ad the content will still be present in the magazine. Also, Forbes is a company and companies are there to profit and make some kind of income. So what if a small native ad makes them some extra income. Good for Forbes to change up the standard of what is and is not. The main thing that seems to make this O.K to me is that it is in fact a native ad. It flows with the rest of the magazine cover and is in no way an obtrusive or distracting advertisement like one will see elsewhere. I believe that if ads like this are to become more commonplace, they should definitely stay within the native range, not only for the sake of the reader but also for the sake of the company. The more and more one strays away from the main concept look and feel, the less loyalty one is going to have. Therefore, anything more obnoxious would be of detriment to the company. Yet in this case, the small ad seems to work fine with the overall theme of the cover and in no way is a problem.
Thanks for the interesting discussion -- on both sides of the topic of native advertising. A small point -- AND I MIGHT BE WRONG -- but I do not think the small ads on the mailing labels of Time or SI pointed to specific narrative content inside those issues, although there might have been traditional print creative from the advertisers in the issues.
Rules evolve over time. Sometimes this evolution comes from within rule-making organizations; more often, evolution is a product of external forces that require those organizations to adapt or diminish. That Mr. Dvorkin is promoting and actively participating in the discussion here, on Forbes, and out on the road is plenty of transparency.
We're also glossing over an important point: The content Fidelity is publishing here is pretty good and clearly beneficial to its target readership. This is what success is, and it touches the first ASME guidelines:
- Every reader is entitled to fair and accurate news and information
- The value of magazines to advertisers depends on reader trust
What Forbes' cover ad is touting is content those interested will read. If readers don't find what Fidelity's published fair, accurate, and trustworthy, Fidelity's content won't perform well regardless of cover touts or any other promotion they do.