New Editorial Rules Nod to Content Marketing

In revised guidelines issued yesterday, the American Society of Magazine Editors, or ASME, addressed types of potential conflict between editorial and advertising content that have grown like weeds in recent years.

Other observers, including Gawker and Media Week, have covered the more prominent changes, such as advertising on magazine covers and “invasive or interruptive” advertising.

But of greatest interest to B2B Memes is the addition of a sentence to section 9 of the guidelines, “Editorial Participation in Advertising.” It reads as follows:

“Publications engaged in or associated with the manufacturing or marketing of branded products and services should ensure that advertisements or promotions for their own products and services cannot be mistaken for editorial content.”

This stricture can refer to the fairly traditional practice among many publishers of covering their own conferences and trade shows. But my guess is that ASME is adding it now because of the rising trend of publishers selling their own nontraditional products and services.

In taking on this new role, publishers may be finding that associating these products and services with their editorial content—in other words, engaging in content marketing—is a significant challenge to editorial ethics.

As advertisers abandon advertising in favor of their own content marketing, this trend among magazine publishers, which has been noted before on this blog, will only accelerate. In the process, I wonder, will ethical guidelines from ASME and other editorial groups evolve to cover content marketing practices in greater detail?

And more intriguingly, will content marketers from the advertising end of the content marketing–publishing continuum adopt similar ethical standards? The distinctions between advertising and editorial content so clear to traditional publishers may be much less obvious to traditional advertisers.

One way or another, content marketing will get its own code of ethics. But whether that code will call for a clear distinction between editorial and promotional content is still, I fear, an open question.