The Children’s Advertising Review Unit recently determined that National Geographic Kids should clearly label advertising in its children’s magazine to avoid blurring editorial and advertising content.

The magazine ran an advertisement for “The Ranger’s Apprentice” book series, which appeared on the upper half of a right-side page. Editorial content ran on the left-side page and jumped to the lower half of the right side. The advertisement, which had a dark background with gold and white text and blue highlighting, did not include a disclaimer that it was an ad.

The editorial feature, “Bet You Didn’t Know: 10 Earthshaking Facts About Our World,” contained random facts on various topics, including science, geography, and history, on a dark background with blue, white, and gold lettering.

CARU expressed concern that children, due to their level of experience and lack of maturity, would have difficulty distinguishing between the magazine’s editorial feature and the book series advertisement. Looking at the net impression of the advertisement as a whole and in relation to the adjoining editorial feature, CARU determined that “one reasonable take away message was that the advertisement for the book series was part of the editorial feature.” “[T]he background of the advertisement was the same color and tone as that of the editorial feature making it difficult for a viewer to distinguish where one started and the other ended. Adding to this impression of continuity was the fact that both had gold and white text with blue highlights throughout.” In addition, CARU concluded that some children may have thought the “random facts” in the editorial feature were related to the content in the books, and “that it was all a part of the same article.”

Therefore, “a prominent disclosure delineating the advertisement from the editorial feature is necessary, particularly for children who do not possess the requisite cognitive ability to understand that some types of magazine content (especially those that appear similar to editorial content) are in fact advertisements,” CARU said.

In its statement, National Geographic for Kids said it had instituted a policy of including the slug line “Advertising” at the top of any fractional advertising in the magazine, regardless of the content or color.

Why it matters: “Advertising should not be presented in a manner that blurs the distinction between advertising and editorial content,” CARU cautioned in the opinion. Especially when advertising to children, marketers should be careful to distinguish their ads from non-advertisements.