ASME Unveils New Guidelines for Magazine Web Sites

With Web sites increasingly permissive about the kinds of ads they’ll accept, the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) is trying to push back.
The new guidelines, which ASME is announcing to members Jan. 25, are the same in spirit as the existing ones but address specific formats—like product placement, paid links and interruptive advertising—with greater detail.
“The overriding principle is still the same—the user has to be able to distinguish ads from edit,” said Eric Schurenberg, editor in chief of the CBS Interactive Business Network, who consulted with editors and publishers in spearheading the new guidelines. “We don’t want to stand in the way of innovation, but [want to] make it clear who’s in charge.”
With these and revisions to the print ad guidelines that came out last fall, ASME is likely to face skepticism about their relevancy, especially as magazines continue to scrap for every ad dollar they can get. Given this conflict, publishers may have less reason to care about the guidelines, which are purely voluntary. At the most, violators are likely to face a warning letter, though there could eventually be some teeth to the guidelines, as ASME has threatened to withhold its coveted National Magazine Awards from persistent violators.
The new guidelines say paid or sponsored links should be identified as such; Web sites should not promote products in exchange for advertising; and sponsored microsites should be visually distinct from the main Web site. A section on interruptive advertising says such ads should be subject to editorial approval. ASME wants such ads to have a prominent “close” or “skip” button and last no more than 10 seconds.
ASME also gets into the burgeoning area of social media. Marketing messages shouldn’t be integrated with editorial content, while bloggers should disclose commercial ties they have with an advertiser or marketer, reflecting new FTC rules aimed at the blogosphere, the organization says.
At a time when audiences are moving to app-based content on mobile phones and tablets, ASME has also added a new section on tablet media. In it, the group emphasizes the importance of ensuring that ads are made to look different from editorial pages to avoid confusing the two, since tablets’ ads often aren’t displayed opposite editorial the way they are in print.
Tablet ads also should avoid using navigational controls that look like those used in editorial pages, according to the guidelines.