ASME’S BLURRY LINES: The boom in so-called “native advertising” in print and online has led to some creative solutions that are obliterating the lines between the editorial and business sides. With publishers such as Time Inc., Hearst and Condé Nast often ignoring that formerly strict separation, The American Society of Magazine Editors has decided to update its own guidelines, which can be summed up with one simple instruction: “Don’t deceive the reader.”

The message is far from revolutionary. In fact, that mandate had been the cornerstone of the prior rules, which took a starker view on whether editors should partake in the creation of advertisements. In February, after Condé Nast said its editors would help create “bespoke” content for advertisers — a fancy way of saying that editors would create native or sponsored content — ASME indicated it would revamp its rules to reflect the changing landscape.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

To refresh, the old rules stated: “Editors are reminded that the participation of editorial staff in the creation of advertising is a conflict of interest and should be avoided. Editorial contributors should not participate in the creation of advertising if their work would appear to be an endorsement by the magazine of the advertised product.”

That language was omitted from the new rules and replaced with a softer statement: “The difference between editorial content and marketing messages, including native advertising, must be transparent. Editors should avoid working with and reporting on the same marketers.” That is a pretty lofty goal, given that most advertisers figure in consumer magazines’ editorial in one way or another.

In the digital age, many Web sites have integrated editorial content with advertising as part of its continuous scroll. To that, ASME said there should be a clear distinction through labeling between edit and ads. The organization added that ads that “mimic” the “look and feel” of the print or digital publication should be “avoided.”

One revenue driver for publishers has included the appearance of advertising on the cover of their print products. This has taken the form of cover wraps and native peel-back ads on the cover — Hearst is one of the biggest proponents of this — as well as native placements, which a host of outlets including The New York Times, Hearst and Time Inc., has employed frequently.

Such practices had violated ASME’s first guideline: “Don’t print ads on covers. The cover is the editor and publisher’s brand statement. Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine.”

Those tenets were nowhere to be found in the updated rules; in fact, there was no mention of ads on the cover. The closest thing was, “Editors should not permit advertiser influence to compromise editorial integrity” — an obvious statement that isn’t exactly a line in the sand in the changing world of consumer magazines.

In short, ASME’s new rules seem to be like native ads themselves: blurry.

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