Microsoft's sprawling Windows 8 campaign has taken new editorial territory in magazines: the table of contents.
The January issues of magazines including Family Circle, Fitness, and Better Homes and Gardens each open to reveal a table of contents touting Windows 8, which Microsoft is promoting with traditional paid ads on the adjacent pages. The contents pages in Better Homes and Gardens, for example, look like Windows 8 Start screens and use the same color as the Windows 8 ads on the facing pages. Other titles participating include Every Day with Rachael Ray, Parents and Family Fun.
"Far be it from me to second-guess anyone for taking chances but there is a fine line between editorial innovation and ceding control to advertisers," said David Granger, editor-in-chief of Esquire, in an email. "If the contents page had been separate and distinct from a Windows 8 ad, I would have seen it as clever -- a comment on something that is ubiquitous in our culture. Next to the ad and sharing a color scheme, it could give the impression that it was mandated by the advertiser, which is problematic."
Magazine publishers and editors usually don't let advertisers leave marks on editorial pages, including the table of contents, because they want readers to believe that their editorial judgment isn't for sale. Advertisers and media buyers have increasingly argued that magazines can protect their reputations without being so rigid.
A spokesman for Meredith Corp., which owns the magazines that ran Windows 8 contents pages, said the effort was part of a broader initiative with Microsoft and does not bear on editorial integrity. "One element of this media and marketing partnership included having our brand design teams develop unique table of contents for several of our brands' current issues inspired by the latest in digital media tile design," he said in a statement. "While these unique designs demonstrate our brands' multi-platform reach and multi-channel delivery, they did not influence or change the editorial content delivered to our consumers."
The American Society of Magazine Editors maintains guidelines intended to protect magazines' editorial credibility with readers. "We're looking at these editorial and advertising executions," said Sid Holt, CEO at the society. "We're always concerned about making sure the separation between advertising and editorial is transparent."
He declined to elaborate, however, saying he hadn't seen the issues themselves.
The table of contents executions came out of Starcom MediaVest Group, which handles Microsoft's ad planning and buying in the U.S. Robin Steinberg, exec VP-director of publishing investment and activation at MediaVest, declined to comment. A Microsoft spokeswoman also declined to comment.
Conde Nast last month promoted Windows 8 with glossy pages fixed to the covers of magazines such as Glamour, Bon Appetit and Wired, showing Windows 8 Start screens tailored for the magazines' top editors. It did not mark the promotions as advertisements. The company argued that they weren't ads at all, just a way to tell readers about its own content on Windows 8, but acknowledged that they were "clearly coordinated" with Microsoft's paid ads.