Magazines are getting more accommodating of advertisers that want their ads to run right through the editorial, space that’s traditionally been off-limits to promotional messages.
Last year, for example, Scholastic Parent & Child began running corner ads on its cover and allowed Campbell Soup to run an ad with a picture of a noodle intersecting an article.
Usually, it’s obvious such promotions are advertisements, but Dwell is going further in its June issue, with an ad composed of colored strips running throughout the 12-page feature well. The vertical bars appear to be an editorial design element but in fact are ads for Valspar, a paint company.
The strips are not labeled advertisement, however, and the advertiser’s name is only mentioned in tiny letters at the bottom of each strip.
It’s only at the end of the editorial section is the ad execution fully explained, in a 2-page spread that says Dwell chose colors from Valspar and integrated them into the pages of the issue.
The ad is a clear violation of the American Society of Magazine Editors guidelines, said Sid Holt, CEO of ASME, who looks into possible guidelines violations.
“I haven’t seen the issue, and can’t comment about the specifics,” he said, “but based on the description, it sounds like product placement, which is a violation of the guidelines. Advertisers should not pay to place their advertisements in editorial.”
Advertisers have been pushing magazines to be more open to product placement, which is common on television. But magazines trade on their reader trust and being a medium where consumers aren’t bombarded with ads, so such integrations run the risk of putting off the reader.
Michela O’Connor Abrams, president and publisher of Dwell, said the ad integration was OK in her book because it doesn’t disrupt the reading experience but rather “beautifully enhances the story.”
Something that “confuses or angers or annoys the reader is something we wouldn’t do,” she said.
O’Connor Abrams said the lack of advertiser label wouldn’t be a problem for readers. “We’re not fooling anyone,” she said. But she also didn’t expect readers to see them as such.
Dwell’s editorial team worked with the advertiser and agency on the integration and was comfortable with it, she added.
MPG vp Tim Zayed, who handled the print ad buy for Valspar, said that while the ad was “somewhat risky,” he believes this magazine’s readers would appreciate it. “The Dwell reader is not a conventional reader,” he said. “They’re looking for the new and the different.”
Still, he said the agency would be monitoring reader feedback to the ad.