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Front-page mini ad in Time magazine causes stir in US publishing business

The tiny ad is bottom left

Blink and you might miss it! But tiny though it is, it’s there, this weekend - the first-ever advert on the cover of Time, one of America’s most respected magazines . The publisher is running a Page One Verizon Wireless ad this week on Time's Page 1 and also on its other big title, Sports Illustrated later this week.

“The ads are tiny, but their arrival puts a big crack in the longstanding tradition that kept ads off magazine covers,” says the US magazine Adage. They in fact take the form of a x-ref to a full-page ad inside, so there’s more money in it than you might think.

However, ads on the on cover are a no-no for the American Society of Magazine Editors - to protect editorial independence from marketers.

The Time and Sports Illustrated ads “are likely to both arouse consternation and encourage others to follow,” says AdAge.

The ads come two weeks before Time Inc. begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange as a public company, fending for itself after being spun off from Time Warner.

The Time issue with the front-page ad reached newsstands on Friday. Sports Illustrated with the cover ads arrives on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Verizon said the cover ad "offered great exposure" for the brand, but wouldn't say more.

The tiny ad has a Verizon logo in the mailing label area, next to the words "For Best Results Use Verizon" and a page number for a traditional ad.

Newsstand copies will print the ad by the bar code, although there won't even be room there for the page number of the interior ad, according to a Time Inc. spokeswoman.

But Time is telling media buyers that in future ads could run across the bottom of its magazines' covers.

The company is also reportedly offering "native placement" ad for the table of contents. . This has usually been considered off-limits for ads.

"You can either say this is a groundbreaking decision to put ads on covers after 91 years in the business or you can say this is a relatively modest reference that catches up to what's going on in the industry," said Norman Pearlstine, Time's chief content officer. "What we didn't want to do is to be perceived that we trying to hide from it."

Time Editor Nancy Gibbs and Sports Illustrated Editor Paul Fichtenbaum declined to comment.

With the Time Warner split imminent, executives including Pearlstine and Time Inc. CEO Joe Ripp have been on a road show stressing that the new Time is willing to experiment with new advertising products.

"We want to be entrepreneurial," Pearlstine said. "We want to be creative. We want to do things that make sense for all of our stakeholders, including readers, viewers in digital space, advertisers and others."

Time Inc wouldn’t say how much Verizon paid for the ad. But the cover line carries a cost, and there's a requirement of an ad page or custom content page in that issue, “plus this is only brought to our largest advertisers, so it's not available to everyone," says Time.

The American Society of Magazine Editors lists as its first guideline: "Don't Print Ads on Covers." Covers are "the editor and publisher's brand statement," the guidelines continue. "Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine."

Penalties? Breaking ASME's guidelines can lead the society to exclude magazines from consideration for the National Magazine Awards.

Pearlstine, who recently joined the ASME board, acknowledged that the cover ads defy ASME guidelines, but said they are also consistent with the editorial society's four basic principles, which are listed above the guidelines themselves: "Every reader is entitled to fair and accurate news and information; the value of magazines to advertisers depends on reader trust; the difference between editorial content and marketing messages must be transparent; editorial integrity must not be compromised by advertiser influence."

"If we're not at variance with the principles, then it's worth having a discussion of whether the guidelines are relevant and still appropriate," Pearlstine said.

ASME CEO Sid Holt has seen the cover ads .”This will be something I'm sure the board and other ASME members will want to look at more closely in the coming months," he said in an email to AdAge.

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