Updated: LHJ March Edition Has Cover Girl Issues

It’s well-known magazines and the celebrities they feature often have a cozy relationship; the title gets access to the star, who uses the platform to promote a new movie or album.

Yet when Ladies’ Home Journal editor Sally Lee published the March issue featuring Ellen DeGeneres, some editors wondered if the magazine was engaging in pay-for-play. DeGeneres appears on the cover and in a two-page Cover Girl ad immediately following. The advertiser shows up again in the inside story on DeGeneres, which mentions her new spokesmodel arrangement with Cover Girl. The company also is credited with the cover photo.

Sid Holt, CEO of the American Society of Magazine Editors, concluded that the issue didn’t violate its editorial guidelines, but said that the ad’s proximity to the cover, cover photo and advertiser mention in the story added up to an “unfortunate combination.”

The LHJ cover appears at a time when magazines are facing one of their most punishing ad climates along with greater pressure from advertisers and print buyers to come up with ads that blur church-state lines. ASME is updating its guidelines, acknowledging it hasn’t kept up with changing industry practices. At a time when product placement is common on TV, ASME’s challenge is to find a way to be open to new ad treatments while preserving editorial integrity.

Print buyers say it’s about time magazines catch up with other media.

Roberta Garfinkle, senior vp, director of print strategy at TargetCast, said that as long as the placement isn’t ad-driven, it’s harmless. “It’s up to magazines to be more realistic,” she said. “It happens on TV, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. What would cross the line is if it’s a deliberate payback.”

George Janson, managing partner, director of print, Mediaedge:cia, said product placement can be successfully done if seamless and valuable to readers: “Once you compromise their trust, it’s hard to regain.”

A rep at LHJ parent Meredith Publishing Group, who returned calls made to Lee, denied the March issue was an example of product placement. He said Cover Girl had a preexisting deal to use the ad position immediately following the cover and that its decision to advertise its new makeup line in the issue was a coincidence. The rep also said the article focuses on
DeGeneres’ career and thus was justified in mentioning the spokesmodel pact.

Lee attracted ASME scrutiny back in 2007, when she edited Meredith sister pub Parents. The title sold a false cover to promote DreamWorks’ DVD release of Shrek the Third. The mock cover retained Parents’ logo, in violation of ASME guidelines restricting the use of logos on ad pages. Meredith said it wouldn’t repeat such an execution.