The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) recently updated its editorial guidelines for editors and publishers to reflect the growing use of native advertising and offered tips on how to maintain ethical standards while taking advantage of the trend.
One sentence can sum up the guidelines, ASME explained: “Don’t deceive the reader.”
“The true value of a print or digital magazine brand lies in its relationship with its readers,” the guidelines state. “The unique relationship between magazine media and media consumers is founded on the reader’s trust in the magazine’s editorial integrity and independence.”
To keep that independence alive, editors should take care to remember that their primary responsibility is to serve the interests of the reader and “not permit advertiser influence to compromise editorial integrity.” In practical terms, this means that the “difference between editorial content and marketing messages, including native advertising, must be transparent.”
The difference between editorial content and marketing messages should be clear to the average reader, regardless of platform or format, the guidelines stress. Editors should take care—particularly on Web sites populated by multiple sources of content (e.g., UGC, aggregated, and marketer-provided)—to distinguish between the two categories. “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 advised.
Both the FTC and the United States Postal Service require that editorial-like advertisements, whether in print or digital, must be identified as an ad. To ensure that the required labeling is clear and conspicuous, ASME recommended “the use of terms such as ‘Advertisement,’ ‘Advertising,’ and ‘Special Advertising Section’” for print advertising, with the terms printed horizontally and centered at the top of each ad unit in readable type.
On Web sites and in social media, native advertising “should be clearly labeled as advertising by the use of terms such as ‘Sponsor Content’ or ‘Paid Post’ and visually distinguished from editorial content,” ASME said, and “collections of sponsored links should be clearly labeled as advertising and visually separated from the editorial content.”
The guidelines also recommend that editors and publishers avoid conflicts of interest by not trading editorial coverage for advertising, by not submitting editorial content to advertisers for approval, and by always disclosing e-commerce partnerships to the reader.
To read ASME’s editorial guidelines, click here.
Why it matters: Native advertising continues to be a hot-button issue and various groups have weighed in on best practices. ASME’s guidance for magazine editors and publishers is extremely prescriptive, and ASME noted it will tweak its guidance with some frequency in the “rapidly changing media marketplace.” However, because of the nature of the continually evolving medium, the guidelines emphasize that when questions arise, editors should return to a simple principle: “Don’t deceive the reader.”