Viewpoint: Cosmo's Sponsored Cover Is Not a Big Deal

Get Over It: Magazines Need to Challenge Convention in Order to Survive

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Cosmopolitan magazine is causing a bit of a stir with its upcoming May issue cover. No, it's not promoting a risque sex survey or planning to scoop Vogue with a Kimye cover of its own. Rather, the publication has the audacity to feature a pasted-on cover for its subscription copies, sponsored by L'Oreal Paris. The extra cover was produced by the edit staff and includes a tease about a L'Oreal contest alongside actual unpaid editorial cover lines. Traditionalists are asking, "Is this a blurring of the lines?" Fashionista raised the question of whether Cosmo had possibly violated The American Society of Magazine Editors' guidelines.

Are they kidding? Right now, the publishing world should be challenging convention. It needs to. The media industry is being disrupted and the traditional business model isn't keeping up. Newspapers have been decimated. The magazine business isn't far behind. According to the Association of Magazine Media, ad pages have fallen a staggering 40% in the past five years. This despite the fact that magazines are showing increased readership when measured across print and digital channels. The magazine publishing industry doesn't have an audience issue -- it has a revenue issue.

For publishers to survive and thrive, they need to find more ways to attract marketing dollars. I applaud this initiative by Cosmo's publisher Hearst and kudos also to L'Oreal for picking it up. The magazine industry has to find more creative and commercial ways to monetize its assets.

Just providing eyeballs for ads isn't enough, because in media, there's no shortage of them.

Total television viewing hours continue to climb. The supply of online display ad impressions appears almost infinite. Time spent with social media is now over three hours a day, up from nothing seven years ago. And the increased access to media via mobile is adding to the daily media diet. As a result, the value of the ad impression is diminishing.

Magazines have assets that brands want. Magazines have insight into what engages readers. They know how to continue to stay relevant and current. They create content that people notice and share. They provide ideas. Finding new ways to tap into and integrate with this content is a whole lot more exciting for brands than interruption.

But will this turn off consumers?

Consumers get that someone has to pay for the content. Most consumers are savvy and pragmatic when it comes to advertising.

They know that advertising subsidizes their magazines. They understand that advertising by and large pays for their favorite TV shows, nearly all the content on the Internet, Google and Facebook, and even public radio.

Of course, if you ask a consumer if they want advertising, they will answer "no." But the increased time consumers are spending with commercial media suggests that consumers accept the exchange.

Advertising is evolving. Consumers also know that the face of "advertising" is changing. We continue to add dozens of new formats. We now have: native ads, custom commercials on Jimmy Kimmel, Ford music videos on American Idol, sponsored stories, branded entertainment, unbranded content, viral videos, crowd-sourced content, influencer marketing, music/artist collaborations, mobile apps, in-game brand experiences, newsroom generated real-time messaging and value brand exchanges. Not only do consumers accept these newer forms of "advertising," they are actually talking about them when they're clever.

In the context of these added media channels, a sponsored cover seems tame.

Smart brands and publishers will always default to the reader's point of view. I believe that most brands understand the importance of showing care in how they talk to consumers in these newer media formats. Crucial to this is respecting their time and intelligence. L'Oreal could have been more overt. But it appears they let the editors guide them. In today's social-media driven world, they will quickly hear if things start to wrangle.

We all want a healthy magazine industry. For that to happen, magazines need to be more attractive for brands. Innovating and experimenting with new solutions can only be a good thing.