The latest boundary-pushing print ad comes from Wenner Media’s Us Weekly.
Subscribers to the celeb weekly will be greeted by a mock cover atop the April 20 issue that’s actually part of a five-page ad buy that Us created to promote HBO’s film Grey Gardens. The cover is meant to resemble a 1940s-era issue of Us Weekly and features Grey Gardens stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.
The buy includes inside and back cover ads and are a mix of pages designed to resemble Us Weekly as well as traditional ads promoting the film’s April 18 premiere. The real cover, featuring the very contemporary (and distressed-looking) Lindsay Lohan, follows the mock cover.
Unsual ad executions have become more common at magazines as they struggle to grow ads in a down economy, and they increasingly are blurring the line between advertising and editorial. While some of these unusual ads have involved the cover, false covers are rare among consumer magazines. The Us Weekly one is the magazine’s first.
Back in 2007, Meredith Corp.’s Parents was reprimanded by The American Society of Magazine Editors when the title sold a false cover to DreamWorks to promote a DVD release of Shrek the Third. That cover retained Parents’ logo, violating ASME guidelines restricting the use of logos on ad pages.
Us Weekly, on the other hand, took steps to differentiate its false cover from its real one. The word “advertisement” appears across the top of its mock cover, and other features like the logo and fonts are changed so as to differentiate it from the actual cover.
“I think it was very clear that this is a unit that is separate from the magazine’s traditional editorial approach,” said Vicci Lasdon Rose, publisher of Us Weekly. “We were very clear by the creative treatment…so there was no miscommunication there. There was no effort to betray or manipulate the reader.”
ASME CEO Sid Holt said he hadn’t seen the Us Weekly cover yet and therefore couldn’t say if it ran afoul of ASME guidelines, which also state that the cover is editorial space and shouldn’t be used for advertising. He said he would comment after discussing the cover with ASME’s guidelines committee this week.