US Magazine Editors Defy Product Placement Pressures

18 October 2005

In the face of creeping encroachment on the already fogged no-man's-land separating editorial from advertisements, the American Society of Magazine Editors on Monday drew a line in the sand.

New guidelines were announced at the American Magazine Conference in Puerto Rico. The changes are intended resist mounting pressure from advertisers and agencies to embed marketing messages and promotions in magazine articles - as they already do in TV programs, videogames and movies.

ASME president Mark Whitaker sums up the prevailing sentiment among editors: "Trends in advertising are going to come and go. The one thing that's going to keep you in business is your relationship with your readers, and if you jeopardize that, then you jeopardize the franchise."

The spirit of ASME's previous guidelines remains unchanged - but the organization has condensed its five pages of rules into what Whitaker call "ten commandments".

Essentially these will ensure that magazine readers clearly understand what sections of a magazine are editorial and what parts are advertising; also that editors retain the final say over what is appropriate for a magazine.

One minor concession to advertisers allows 'advertorials', or special advertising sections, to be labeled "promotion," rather than "advertisement."

But this is hardly likely to satisfy advertising lobbyists. "Some advertisers could be disappointed," warns Robin Steinberg, director of print services at MediaVest. "We need to be able to push the envelope [to devise ads that] create impact, relevance and buzz."

Jim Poh, vp and director of creative content distribution at ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, goes further, implying the rules could divert ad revenues to other, more compliant, media: "The guidelines have been holding magazines back," he claims.

While GD&SM director of media, marketing and business development Steve Moynihan believes advertisers are eager to see their brands appearing within editorial articles. "That's what a lot of marketers are looking for," says Moynihan. "How can I become part of the story?"

But ASME's doughty Whitaker, insists that publishers' trump card with readers - and advertisers - is the former's belief that magazines are editorially independent, adding credibility to their recommendations of products and services and rendering them "worth more than a lot of advertising".

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff