65% OF READERS BELIEVE MAGAZINES SELL EDITORIAL PLUGS

Study Finds Widespread Cynicism About Editorial Integrity

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- While marketers are pushing for print's answer to product placement, it turns out that most magazine readers already consider it rampant.
Photo: Hoag Levins
A Starcom study finds that most consumers believe magazines take money in return for having their editors mention advertisers in articles.
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A study released yesterday by Starcom USA found that 65% of the consumers believe that advertisers pay for editorial mentions.

Readers receptive
Moreover, Starcom found, readers are receptive to reading about brands in articles. Nearly 83% of the respondents, when they identified brand appearances in titles, found that the mentions of specific brands "fit" the content and context of its article, and that they expected to read about specific products.

Advertisers, particularly automakers, have been increasingly pressing for ways to buy their way into the editorial pages of magazines, a heinous no-no for the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Warning for editors
"This study is not a permission slip," said Brenda White, director-print investment at Starcom Worldwide. "It's a warning." If readers already believe editorial content is for sale, she said, publishers who push the needle further could jeopardize what reader trust they have.

Reader complacency on the subject will dismay defenders of an ad-edit divide, but that should not particularly shock anyone, said Janice Min, editor in chief at Wenner Media's Us Weekly. "The thing that's probably discouraging to a lot of editors is that much of the general public wouldn't even care," she said. "People who I consider pretty well-informed will ask me, 'What's wrong with paying for stories?' [or] 'Oh wait, they don't pay you to put that purse in the magazine?'"

But advertisers might not want to call the study an endorsement of paid print placement.

For one thing, Starcom quizzed its panel on brand mentions and images that were not necessarily bought, but instead were probably included by photographers and writers precisely because they really "fit" the theme of each article. (As Starcom noted, "Survey answers were based on consumer perceptions of whether mentions were paid, and the study premise did not assume that any of the pages measured in this survey were paid for by any of the advertisers.")

Newsweeklies
In other results, the agency detected greater resistance to perceived product placement in newsweeklies. But lifestyle titles seem to have more leeway. The study's findings indicate readers agree with the arguments of some publishers who want to sell their edit.

Tracey Altman, VP-group publisher at the Publishing Group of America, said in July that readers could handle the brand mentions she plans to sell in Relish, a forthcoming cooking magazine. "As long as your magazine is about entertaining and lifestyle, I don't think we should be held to the same standard as U.S. News & World Report," she said then.

Ms. Min took issue with that sentiment yesterday, even when faced with a survey suggesting that 65% of readers wouldn't mind paid placement. "It is important to respect not only the journalism of your specific title," she said, "but the hopefully more than 35% of general magazine readers who actually do value the church-state separation."

The study of 692 magazine readers was conducted in September by Starcom, part of the Starcom MediaVest Group division of the Publicis Groupe, in conjunction with Survey Sampling International, which maintains the panel from which survey respondents were drawn. Readers of various consumer magazines were shown excerpts from magazines featuring brand images or mentions, then surveyed with questionnaires.

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