Third Party Credibility: What More & More Magazines Are Lacking

Flip through your latest Vogue (or GQ) and look closely at the photo spread dictating this season’s “must-haves,” straight from the runways of Milan and the mouths of industry fashionistas (supposedly). As you might do anyway, skim past all those thousand-dollar clothes and accessories and center in on the plain Jane white t-shirt from the Gap that only costs $18.99. Hold your breath for what follows—a full-page ad from the very same company, showing off even more affordable alternatives. You’re thinking “Wow, Gap must be a really good brand if they’re advertising AND getting featured in magazine articles!”

Oh, you weren’t thinking that? Neither were we. We were thinking like many magazines nowadays, advertising weighs heavily on editorial decisions at Vogue, right down to the cheap t-shirt ploys. Our office copy of Ad Age revealed this shocking tidbit: “The sixth-annual MS&L Marketing Management Survey, done in conjunction with PRWeek, found that 19 percent of the 252 chief marketing officers and marketing directors surveyed said their organizations had bought advertising in return for a news story. That represents one in five senior marketers, up 17 percent from last year.” Even the L.A. Times, a respected publication with over a dozen Pulitzers since 2000, entrusted their newly launched magazines’ editorial content to none other than the advertising/publishing staff.

So what does this mean for readers? Well, this sort of swindling not only insults our intelligence and awareness as consumers, but ruins both the magazine’s and the advertising brand’s credibility. How are we supposed to believe the “Editor’s Picks” for makeup or electronics or carburetors aren’t footing the bill? We only hope this treacherous trend isn’t spreading too far into localized publications and the businesses advertising with them. In this economy, small businesses’ best bet is setting themselves apart as the believable expert rather than the company with deep pockets and deceitful tactics. Our work with community event Artista Vista proves credibility can go long a way — of the attendees we surveyed, the majority had heard about the event from the local and state newspapers. By providing compelling background stories on participating artists and the Vista’s rich history, Artista Vista rang true with readers as more than just another downtown event.

All this just goes to show that except in a few circumstances of mega brands, consumers can usually tell at some point when a brand relies on gimmicks. And that creates trust issues. Instead businesses should focus on the quality of their products and getting their company’s story out there. Once consumers identify with a product, it’s more noticed. Moral of the story: you can’t fake credibility no matter how much you pay!

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