Magazine Association Softens Hard Line on Native Ads

The American Society of Magazine Editors, known for having standards that barred magazine editors from working on advertorial content, has now softened that approach in a set of new guidelines. The standards also ditch the association's longtime ban on cover ads.

For many magazines, it’s a new world out there—one where the lines between advertising and editorial content are becoming increasingly blurred.

As a result, the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME), which has long taken a stance against the two sides of the magazine influencing each other, appears ready to throw its support behind a different approach.

On Wednesday, the group released a new set of guidelines for editors to follow when working on advertorial content, or native ads. No longer do the guidelines bar editors from working with marketers—now they only bar editors from working on stories related to their advertorial duties.

“Editors should avoid working with and reporting on the same marketers,” the new ASME guidelines state. “Conflicts of interest, including personal relationships that could influence editorial coverage, should be disclosed to the reader.”

The standards also no longer explicitly bar cover ads—something that became an issue a little over a year ago, after Time magazine controversially began running small text ads below its bar code. The ban’s removal is notable, as it was previously at the very top of the old guidelines.

The rules do maintain some standards—particularly the requirement that advertisers shouldn’t reflect editorial content—but they’re notably less strict than they were before.

As Ad Age notes, the changes reflect something of a new financial reality for magazines, which are trying to compete with svelte digital operations. Part of the reason for the simplified standards, notes James Bennett, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, was to keep rules unified, no matter the medium—rather than having separate rules for digital (where the standards are looser) and print (where things have been more traditional).

“We were faced with a choice of drawing up new versions of the old guidelines for every form of new media we were experimenting with and eventually producing guidelines that were the size of a phonebook,” Bennett, who worked on the guidelines, told Ad Age.

The rules come a couple of months after it was revealed that one of the largest magazine publishers, Condé Nast, launched its own in-house department for creating made-to-order editorial content for advertisers.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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