May’s Issue of Shape certainly is good to Ellen DeGeneres. She’s touted on the cover and in a feature promoting her as the picture of good health, thanks to yoga and a strict diet.
But that’s not all. DeGeneres also appears in ads for Vitaminwater, which recently made her its newest spokesperson. The ads immediately follow the cover and flank the cover story. For the cover shoot, DeGeneres is wearing CoverGirl makeup, another brand she represents and which also has an ad showcasing her in the issue.
The Vitaminwater ads’ placement drew the attention of the American Society of Magazine Editors. While titles commonly blur the line between ads and editorial, Sid Holt, CEO of ASME, said Shape seemed to violate ASME’s voluntary but generally accepted guidelines that say an ad for a product should not run next to editorial mentions of those products. “It looks like they sold it,” he said.
The guidelines don’t explicitly address celebrity endorsement ads, but that may change. Holt said that ASME is working on an overhaul of its guidelines, and as part of that review, it may tighten the standards to ban ads featuring a celebrity from running next to a story about that celeb. “It’s something we are concerned about,” Holt said. “You have celebrities endorsing the product. It looks like product placement.”
Executives at Shape parent American Media Inc. defended the execution, saying that DeGeneres was secured for the story long before the ad deal happened. According to an AMI rep, CEO David Pecker himself pursued DeGeneres for the cover and then directly approached Vitaminwater, which is owned by Coca-Cola, about advertising.
A rep for DeGeneres said Vitaminwater played no part in negotiating the story.
Diane Newman, evp, group publishing director of the Active and Healthy Lifestyle Group at AMI, acknowledged that the title pushed the boundaries of convention by running the ads next to the story. “That was something quite frankly that did surprise [the editor] a little,” said Newman, who joined AMI after the ad deal was done and wasn’t directly involved in the issue. “It happened prior to my arrival.” (Sabine Feldmann, publisher at the time, declined comment.)
DeGeneres’ look on the cover very closely resembles the ad that immediately follows, she explained, because DeGeneres insists on picking her own outfits. “We weren’t exactly thrilled about that, but we weren’t going to tell [Vitaminwater] they couldn’t run on cover two page one,” said Newman.
Shape editor Valerie Latona said she made sure the DeGeneres article didn’t endorse any products DeGeneres is backing. But she also said that in a day when celebrities routinely endorse products, the ASME guidelines barring adjacencies are outdated.
“I don’t think it’s smart in this day and age to turn away an advertiser we have a relationship with,” Latona said. “I’ll probably get thrown out of ASME for this, but…in this day of constantly evolving media, I believe, as an editor in chief, we have to be smart businesspeople as well.”