Native Advertising on Forbes Magazine Cover – Right Or Wrong?

Forbes Cover Page
Image: Forbes

As a consumer I am not a fan of so-called “native” advertising, which are basically advertising pieces that are dressed up to look like editorial content. It’s become a relatively prevalent practice on the web, and in print you’re used to seeing them as advertorials.

Side note: I’m not discussing In-Feed units, recommendation widgets,  paid search units, or any of the other “looks almost like the real thing except for the disclosure” forms of “native” advertising in this post.

No matter how we gussy it up, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that native advertising isn’t about creating a better experience for the reader (although we say it is) , it’s about creating more revenue streams (which we say it isn’t really) and creating adverts in the hopes that the reader doesn’t realize what they are consuming and takes it as a genuine editorial endorsement (no, no no nevah!).

You can put lipstick on a pig…

According to Ad Age, Forbes will run a cover on Monday includes native advertising, can you spot it in the image?

That’s right, it’s the black box on the right shilling for Fidelity, who purchased a two-page infographic in the publication and for what I can only assume is an obscene amount of money.

Forbes aren’t the first to do this. Time Inc., ran Verizon ads on the covers Time and Sports Illustrated last year, but they haven’t tried it again since. Despite this, undisclosed ads on the front of magazine covers remains a new phenomenon.

Mr. Mark Howard, Forbes Media’s chief revenue officer doesn’t see an issue with this:

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.”

Mr. Howard might not see an issue with this but I do. Granted, the hardcore Forbes readers may recognize this as an advertisement, but the average person at an airport newsstand looking for something to read on their flight will not. Heck, Forbes gets delivered to my house every month and I wouldn’t immediately recognize it as an advert.

This brings to mind the FTCs 2009 guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials and how they affect bloggers. The entire point was to protect consumers (and I suppose search integrity) from fake reviews, essentially forcing bloggers to disclose their advertiser or product owner relationships so that consumers wouldn’t mistake advertorials from unscrupulous bloggers and advertisers with genuine reviews.

The FTC acknowledged in the document that traditional media doesn’t have to do the same thing for reviews because the expectation is different:

The Commission acknowledges that bloggers may be subject to different disclosure requirements than reviewers in traditional media. In general, under usual circumstances, the Commission does not consider reviews published in traditional media (i.e., where a newspaper, magazine, or television or radio station with independent editorial responsibility assigns an employee to review various products or services as part of his or her official duties, and then publishes those reviews) to be sponsored advertising messages. Accordingly, such reviews are not “endorsements” within the meaning of the Guides.Under these circumstances, the Commission believes, knowing whether the media entity that published the review paid for the item in question would not affect the weight consumers give to the reviewer’s statements.

Granted, this Fidelity advert is not a review, but it does fly in the face of the traditional expectations of magazine readers – which is NOT to find advertising on the front cover, especially advertising that is not marked as such.

What do you think? Did Forbes go a step too far?