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Ads Venturing Further Into Magazines' Editorial Pages

You've Got to See These Magazine Ads -- No Really, You've Got No Choice

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazines are getting more comfortable with ads that run right through their editorial pages, a onetime taboo that's under pressure from marketers and the competition with other media.

Cottonelle ad

Cottonelle's ad in the April issue of Scholastic Parent & Child.

The February issue of Dwell magazine, for example, printed a red ribbon of ad copy weaving through four pages of letters to the editor and contributor bios until concluding at a two-page ad spread for Acura.

And now the April issue of Scholastic Parent & Child will include a spread showing Cottonelle's puppy mascot rolling out of an ad on the left, through three columns of editorial on money-saving secrets, and into an ad on the right. In last October's issue, the first time the magazine let an advertiser take this approach, readers found an ad on the left in which a boy sucked a noodle through three columns of editorial content and out of a bowl of Campbell's soup on the right.

These sorts of "interruptive" or "invasive" ads don't violate industry church-and-state guidelines meant to kept editorial and advertising separate. But they eliminate one selling point of magazines -- that readers have always had the option to fast-forward through ads, by flipping to the next page of editorial. And they risk irritating readers by disrupting the immersive reading experience that publishers and editors say sets magazines apart from other media.

"Groovy" but "stinks"
"They don't violate the current guidelines as long as the reader can tell the difference between ad and edit," said Sid Holt, CEO at the American Society of Magazine Editors, which writes the guidelines. "But that doesn't mean they're OK. I think most editors would agree that these kinds of ads -- ads that intentionally disrupt the reader experience -- are not very good for the reader's relationship with the magazine, and since the editor is responsible for that relationship, the editor should have some say -- a lot of say -- the final say -- about whether the magazine should take ads like these."

"Personally speaking," Mr. Holt added, "this crap may be groovy, but it still stinks."

Scholastic Parent & Child has already shown that it is not overly concerned with the society's guidelines -- it's been running ads on the front cover, a clear-cut violation, since its April 2009 issue. Cottonelle actually bought its interruptive ad in conjunction with a front-cover ad.

Interruptive ads, and cover ads for that matter, can work for advertisers without alienating readers, said Risa Crandall, VP and publisher at Scholastic Parents Media. "Seamless visual integration does not interrupt the reading process -- it actually becomes an organic marriage between our advertiser's message and our editorial product," she said. "Unlike online pop-up advertising which actually obscures editorial, Scholastic Parent & Child's ad interruptions deliver a more pleasant, fluid reader experience. We like to compare it to TV's widely-popular product placement integration."

Magazines can't be so strict
Ad buyers said magazines need more freedom to compete with other media. "If it's relevant and appropriate and engaging to the consumer, why not?" asked Robin Steinberg, senior VP and director of print investment and activation at MediaVest Worldwide. Ms. Steinberg recently arranged for a Walmart Stores ad in Time Inc.'s Real Simple that was keyed to the editorial immediately preceding it. The Walmart ad read "Decorating with Walmart"; the article was called "Decorating with Yellow." The unusual coordination of the ad with the edit attracted some attention, although Time Inc. said it did nothing to confuse readers.

"Why do we have to stick to the rule of engagements, of very specific standardized placements?" Ms. Steinberg said. "We need to think out of the box and evolve the design element of engaging and interacting with the consumer. This is not about infringing on the credibility of the editorial content. We respect what makes magazines different from other platforms. However, I do believe that the current standards, rules and regulations that exist under ASME should be more flexible when delivering a relevant message in a relevant environment."

Advertisers are asking for more and more, but Dwell is still looking out for its relationship with readers first, said Dwell publisher Michela O'Connor Abrams. "Just this year, so far, we have gotten 37 requests for what I will classify as disruptive creative," she said. "And only about three of them passed muster. Passing muster for me means it has to pass ASME guidelines and even if it passes ASME guidelines, which we all know can be gotten around, then we really look and try to guide the client around what will be acceptable to our audience."

Both publishers said their editors approved the executions.

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