Forbes Puts Native Ad for Fidelity on Its (Actual) Cover

Another Taboo Broken

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A native ad for Fidelity will appear on the cover of the latest issue of Forbes, which hits newsstands on Monday. The ad is on the actual cover -- it's not part of a foldout or second cover.

Forbes was among the first publications to fully embrace native advertising -- a tactic where ads seek to mimic editorial content -- but the cover treatment takes the practice into mostly uncharted waters for magazines.

That's because putting ads on magazine covers remains one of the last remaining taboos in an industry under so much financial pressure that it's now enlisting editors to work with advertisers. Last year, Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher, ran tiny ads for Verizon Wireless on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated. But it has not repeated the tactic.

The Fidelity ad on Forbes' cover teases an infographic about retirement, which is the editorial theme of the issue. Fidelity paid for the two-page infographic to appear in the issue as part of a larger ad buy with Forbes that includes print and digital.

"We view this as strong content that's part of the retirement package," said Mark Howard, Forbes Media's chief revenue officer. Forbes' brand newsroom, a department that works with advertisers to create content, helped produce the infographic, he added.

But Fidelity did not pay a premium for the cover treatment, according to Mr. Howard. Instead, it was a byproduct of the deal -- something people in media and marketing call "added value" for the client. The decision to include the cover line came from Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis D'Vorkin.

"Lewis deemed it was appropriate for Fidelity to be called out on the cover just like any other great piece of content would be," said Mr. Howard, who declined to discuss the terms of the deal.

The stated rate for BrandVoice, as Forbes calls its native advertising product, is a minimum of $600,000. Media executives not affiliated with the company suggested the rate Forbes charged Fidelity for the entire package is likely in the million dollar range. Fidelity declined to comment.

The cover line doesn't specifically state that it's an advertisement. It does, however, include the term "FidelityVoice," which is how Forbes marks its native ads -- melding the advertiser's name with the word "voice."

Mr. Howard doesn't think the cover line is misleading. "When you look at the color scheme and the box, it's separated, it has a different background," he said. "For readers of Forbes, they've known for four years that when you see FidelityVoice that that is content that's coming from one of our partners."

He described the cover treatment as "the evolution of where we've come from and where we are in today's world."

Forbes introduced its native-advertising product in 2010, when it was called AdVoice. It allowed advertisers to post content directly to the magazine's website. Media critics bristled then at the notion. Today, of course, nearly every publisher has adopted a similar strategy, although some vocal critics remain.

The American Society of Magazine Editors' guidelines for editors and publishers, meant to protect readers' trust in publishers' editorial independence from advertisers, still begin: "Don't Print Ads on Covers."

The bold move into native advertising hasn't protected Forbes from the stiff headwinds facing print-media brands, which are seeing declines in both newsstand sales and advertising revenue. Last year, the Forbes family and its backers sold a majority stake in Forbes Media, including the iconic namesake magazine, to a Hong Kong-based investment group. The magazine staff also relocated from its longtime headquarters on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to an office in New Jersey.

Mr. Howard said to expect more taboo-breaking tactics in the future. Last month, the magazine produced a second cover -- which readers noticed after opening the magazine -- that closely resembled the actual cover. But it was an ad for AT&T.