Publishers, Editors: Product Placement Means Our Product's Debasement

In his first speech as president of the Magazine Publishers of America, Jack Kliger, who is also president and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacchi Media, eliminated any doubts as to where the MPA stands on the thorny issue of product placement: "Product placement will only lead to the disintegration of our credibility," he said. "Nothing could be more damaging to our readers."

Kliger, speaking Monday at the American Magazine Conference in Puerto Rico, set the tone for the day with a resounding answer to a tough question facing many magazine publishers today: whether to blur the line between editorial and sales--the traditional church and state of the magazine industry.

Later in the day, the release of revised industry guidelines by the MPA's American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) would make it final: product placement has no place in the magazine industry. But not all editors and advertisers agree.

"We don't see a reason not to do [product placement]," Steve LeGrice, editor in chief of Inside TV, said--as long as it fits in context with editorial content. LeGrice added that the magazine is currently testing reader response to product placements.



Kerri Martin, director of brand innovation, Volkswagen of America, Inc., agreed--adding that from a marketer's perspective, print product placement needs to be tested before it can be discounted as a viable advertising option.

Media Planner Jack Hanrahan, OMD's director of strategy, print communications, said that while product placement could prove effective for certain publications, "the vast majority of publishers won't do it"--because he said the paid-editorial line cannot be so easily crossed with magazine readers, unlike television. "TV in many respects needs this," Hanrahan said. "Magazines can add pages, whereas TV cannot."

Newsweek Editor and President of ASME Mark Whitaker, who yesterday unveiled the organization's new guidelines at the AMC conference, suggested that product placement could ultimately cannibalize magazines' value to advertisers. "At the end of the day, advertisers are still most interested in our relationship with our readers." Besides, he noted later, "[Marketers] prize nothing more than independent praise of their product."

The ASME guidelines for editors and publishers were condensed and largely unchanged in terms of content, with a huge caveat for product placements and sponsorships. According to the guidelines, publishers should not place products in editorial content in exchange for payments or ads, except for advertorials, which need to be clearly labeled as either "Advertising" or "Promotion." Non-recurring special issues or one-time sponsorships that appear as editorial content must also be labeled.

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