With ads popping up on covers, traipsing across editorial white space and woven into magazines in otherwise unusual ways, the American Society of Magazine Editors’ guidelines—which say how to keep ads and editorial content separate—haven’t always kept up.
On Oct. 21, ASME released revised guidelines for the first time in five years (posted at magazine.org/asme), with new language concerning the use of false covers, sponsored sections, interruptive advertising and ad adjacencies—high-profile examples of which have lately come before the association.
ASME also is working on revisions to its digital guidelines to reflect the growing use of invasive and interruptive ads online and federal rules requiring bloggers to disclose commercial ties. That process is expected to be finished later this year.
Sid Holt, CEO of ASME, said the goal of the guidelines is still to ensure that readers can tell the difference between editorial content and ads—while anticipating new kinds of ad executions.
“Everyone’s looking for new ad units and sponsorships,” he said. “You’re definitely seeing more interruptive advertising, more innovative units, more efforts to integrate advertising and editorial more closely.”
But with magazines scrapping for every ad they can get and to compete with digital and broadcast media, where interruptive ads and product placement abound, publishers, advertisers and even some editors have expressed doubts about the relevance of the guidelines.
Robin Steinberg, svp, director of print investment and activation at MediaVest, who has been vocal in pushing magazines to offer advertisers more flexibility, said the guidelines make it hard for magazines to stay competitive with other media.
"This continues to hold a noose around our neck,” she said of the guidelines.
Editors aren’t bound to the guidelines, of course, and in the shaky economic climate, some might decide that doing their part to help their publisher sell ads is more important than running the risk of getting a stern letter from ASME and being disqualified from its National Magazine Awards. (Holt said a number of entries were disqualified from this year’s awards, because they were deemed in violation of the guidelines.)
Holt said ASME wasn’t trying to make it harder for magazines to sell ads, but instead clarify already accepted industry practice.
“These are longstanding practices in the magazine business,” he said. “Occasionally you read something that says ASME is wrecking the business. That’s simply not the case.”
“We’re not oblivious to what’s going on,” said Larry Hackett, managing editor of People and president of ASME. “But we believe there are ways to satisfy advertisers without compromising editorial. We want to say is, 'Here’s what can work, here’s what can’t work.'”
However, even if a magazine doesn’t care about National Magazine Awards, it might want to know about another risk of flouting the ASME guidelines. One of the additions to the revisions was a new section pointing out the federal law governing labeling of advertising.