Thursday, April 26, 2007

Magazine Series Raises Ethical Questions

Memo Pad: Blurring The Lines?

Magazines and other traditional media have leapt upon Web video, in part to maximize advertising opportunities. But Marie Claire's new podcast series, "The Masthead With Marie Claire," has raised questions about whether ethical guidelines separating advertising and editorial apply in the digital realm. The video podcasts, which are produced in collaboration with and boast impressive production values and "Devil Wears Prada"-esque flourish, are sponsored by Unilever with occasional chipping in by Diesel as "patron."

Nearly every one of the eight segments so far has prominently featured Unilever beauty products in scenes with the magazine's editors, and the most recent one included footage of the Diesel New York show, with Marie Claire fashion director Tracy Taylor explaining in the podcast, "What I love about Diesel . . . Occasionally, the placement of Unilever products seems to have required some effort on the magazine's part - a junior fashion editor on location at the United Nations for a shoot extols Degree deodorant (a Unilever product) to avoid staining a garment, and style director Cleo Glyde holds up two Sunsilk products (once again, Unilever) to illustrate a point about the varying beauty choices of French and American women. Beauty director Didi Gluck, who has since left the magazine, holds forth on a Dove self- tanner, and even editor in chief Joanna Coles does her part in episode one with a Dove skin product (both, of course, Unilever). But much of the product- praising duties seem to have fallen upon deputy beauty director Genevieve Monsma, who calls one Dove product "one of my favorites," and claims to have it in every sink in her apartment. Later that episode, she adds, "We're actually not going to cover hair in this story, but I saw these great products that came in from Suave [from Unilever] that I thought we could chat about a little bit."

The American Society of Magazine Editors, whose board monitors adherence to its guidelines for editorial integrity, has a set of "Best Practices for Digital Media," which board member and Slate editor in chief Jacob Weisberg said soon will be revised to reflect technological change. "The principle is exactly the same . . . . Readers and users have to know what is advertising and what is editorial on the Web, as in print," he said. The ASME board has not reviewed the Marie Claire podcasts in particular, but Weisberg said: "It's got to be separate. [Advertising] can't include the editors and shouldn't be produced by the editors."

A spokeswoman for Marie Claire said, "'The Masthead With Marie Claire' is a podcast that is designed as a television show produced for the Web. From reality shows such as 'The Apprentice' to scripted shows like 'The Office,' brand integration is the norm. ASME guidelines do not extend to podcasts and Webisodes."

But Marlene Kahan, executive director of ASME, contended "the general codes do apply" to digital productions by members. "All online pages should clearly distinguish between editorial and advertising or sponsored content," the ASME guidelines read. "A magazine's name or logo should not be used in a way that suggests editorial endorsement of an advertiser. The site's sponsorship policies should be clearly noted, either in text accompanying the article or on a disclosure page, to clarify that the sponsor had no input regarding the content."

In episode seven, Monsma describes a Dove beauty junket in the Dominican Republic (two product launches, one "particularly novel," another "really great"). She later says, "We can't try absolutely everything that comes in, but [we try] the products that are notable for one reason or another." Glyde replies, "By the time a product ends up in the magazine, you can be pretty sure that the girls have had a little bit of fun with it." Or at least their publisher has. - Irin Carmon

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