Magazines, Advertising, and the Malleability of EthicsS

Since the recession hit and print started dying in earnest, magazines have been...let's say, loosening their standards on the editorial-advertising divide. Now, in a bid to maintain relevance, the American Society of Magazine Editors has updated its ethical guidelines. HMMMM.

This is actually interesting stuff, for the dozen of you who have clicked on this post because you care about magazines! ASME controls the National Magazine Awards. It was once all-powerful, and its guidelines were followed without a second thought. But that was when magazines were a reliably profitable business. Now, money counts, and advertisers have more power than ever, and suddenly things like Esquire's hidden ad on its cover seem almost standard. What was once unthinkable is becoming routine. And we find that certain ethical strictures are much more of a luxury than we'd presumed. ASME finds itself at risk of having its guidelines simply ignored, which would woefully undermine its relevance. And voila—new standards for advertising. Among the brand-new updates from ASME:

They've added conditions for advertising on magazine covers:

False covers and cover flaps may be used for advertising subject to these conditions:

1. the magazine logo is not used to suggest editorial endorsement (the logo may be used on false covers and cover flaps to identify the publication)
2. editorial content and graphic design are not integrated with advertising
3. false covers and cover flaps do not use cover lines and graphic-design elements similar to those used by the magazine itself

They've added conditions for magazine logo use in advertising:

Magazine logos may be used on pages promoting the magazine, its products and its marketing partnerships, including on the cover of a sponsored section,but cannot be used on the cover or other pages of an advertising section ("advertorial").

They've added a section on magazines selling branded content and events:

Publications engaged in or associated with the manufacturing or marketing of branded products and services should ensure that advertisements or promotions for their own products and services cannot be mistaken for editorial content.

Commonsensical update for this modern age, or shameful cave-in? It doesn't really matter.

[ASME Guidelines for Editors and Publishers. Photo via]