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ASME Removes Its Rule About Running Advertising on Covers

The line between what's editorial and what's advertising is about to get even blurrier.
'Cosmopolitan' subscribers found this L'Oreal-sponsored ad on the cover of the May 2014 issue. Photo: Cosmpolitan

'Cosmopolitan' subscribers found this L'Oreal-sponsored ad on the cover of the May 2014 issue. Photo: Cosmpolitan

Last April, Cosmopolitan came under fire for sending an issue to subscribers that featured a stick-on ad for L'Oreal on the cover — one that, by all appearances, didn't look like an ad, but like the cover itself. Doing so was a direct violation of the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME)'s guidelines for editors and publishers, which explicitly stated that advertisements "should not be directly printed on the cover or spine," nor on false covers made to look like a real ones, which Cosmo's absolutely did.

On Wednesday, ASME updated those guidelines, and the rule about not printing ads on covers is nowhere to be found. In a note about the update, ASME wrote that the new guidelines are designed to be "less prescriptive but wider in scope" than previous editions, and that there is a need for more "flexible guidelines" that apply to all magazine media, including mobile, video and experiential.

Here's what the guidelines had to say about native advertising:

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  • On websites populated by multiple sources of content, including user-generated content, aggregated content and marketer-provided content, editors and publishers must take special care to distinguish between editorial content and advertising. Advertisements that mimic the “look and feel” of the print or digital publication in which they appear may deceive readers and should be avoided.
  • ASME also recommends that native advertising on websites and in social media should be clearly labeled as advertising by the use of terms such as “Sponsor Content” or “Paid Post” and visually distinguished from editorial content, and that collections of sponsored links should be clearly labeled as advertising and visually separated from editorial content.

In other words, magazine publishers are free to run ads anywhere — even on magazine covers — so long as they are clearly labeled as such, and don't run the risk of confusing readers. Even by the updated standards, the L'Oreal-sponsored Cosmo cover is still in violation of those principles. But with the removal of ASME's explicit no-cover rule, we expect we'll be seeing more ad placements on covers in the future.

ASME also addressed e-commerce relationships. Many publishers (including us) use affiliate links — meaning they get a cut of every sale made through those links— while others, like Allure and Harper's Bazaar, have e-commerce integrated directly on their respective sites. Most of the time, those relationships are not disclosed, but ASME says they should be.

One thing seems certain: Those already-blurry lines between editorial and advertising are about to get blurrier.