NATIVE SOLE: Despite publicizing its Kerry Washington cover for April, Marie Claire has decided to give subscribers the native advertising treatment. The magazine has released its first native cover sponsored by Stuart Weitzman to its 877,000 subscribers, who constitute roughly 87 percent of its print magazine readership. (The other 13 percent are buying the magazine at the newsstand and get to see Washington’s face front and center without the ad.)

Although Marie Claire has experimented with native covers before — it ran a denim cover wrap which opened with a paper zipper that revealed an interior Guess ad — it hasn’t yet run a fully sponsored cover. The subject of native advertising running on magazine covers has been a hot topic since WWD learned that the American Society of Magazine Editors was in the process of updating its editorial guidelines to reflect the changing landscape. Current rules suggest that magazines should keep ads off their covers. “Don’t Print Ads on Covers,” ASME writes on its site, explaining that ads printed on “false covers or cover flaps” should be labeled as advertising. (The Marie Claire cover does not, but simply carries a tag line that says “Presented by Stuart Weitzman.”)

This story first appeared in the March 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Before we did this cover, we read through the guidelines of ASME, and we felt we were in the clear,” said Marie Claire editor in chief Anne Fulenwider, while flipping through the April issue. Fulenwider’s company, Hearst Magazines, has not been shy about making a native advertising push in both print and digital across its portfolio, which includes Cosmopolitan, Elle and Esquire. “We’re all very collaborative,” the editor said, explaining that while she has not worked on the native ads, her edit team does share its ideas with the business side in order to present a unified brand identity.

Marie Claire vice president, publisher, and chief revenue officer Nancy Berger Cardone stressed that her team developed the subscriber cover and there should be a strict separation between advertising and editorial, another topic that has been under discussion as publishers develop their native content divisions. “I can’t imagine it not being that way,” Cardone said, of the strict separation. “I would not go to Anne and say, ‘could your team do an ad for me?’ I don’t think she’d ask me to write an article for her. She’s good at that. I’m good at what I do. We have the things that we’re good at. The thing about native that is important for us is that it’s clear to our end user that this is an ad.”

For Marie Claire, the April issue begins a monthlong “Shoes First” program, which launched in 2013. It includes a Twitter chat with creative director Nina Garcia and Michael Kors on Thursday and a shopping event at Lord & Taylor hosted by Garcia on April 9. Marie Claire has also created a shoe-centric guide with Simon Malls and a campaign with Nordstrom that features a calendar of the most-sought after styles that come with the chance to enter to win a $250 gift card from the retailer.

The magazine will roll out its campaign in 11 of its international editions — not with a native cover — but through its social campaign #shoesfirst, and via retail advertising partners in local markets, among others.

Returning to the U.S. issue, for Weitzman, the opportunity to have a cover was a first — and a no-brainer. According to chief marketing officer Susan Duffy, a native cover is a “hot topic” among brands, as it can get the brand’s message in front of readers in a way that in-book ads can’t necessarily achieve.

“For us, we are constantly looking at ways we can translate our brand into powerful marketing messaging,” said Duffy, who addressed her company’s 360-degree approach to advertising. “I know this word is overused, but it’s all about omnichannel. We want to be where our consumer is — she is still reading magazines, but she’s also shopping online.”

Duffy declined to comment on her brand’s ad spend in the April issue of Marie Claire, and admitted that quantifying the return on investment for such advertising is “difficult to nail down.”

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