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A few years ago, the Federal Trade Commission mandated that fashion bloggers start practicing full disclosure: Every affiliate link used, every crazy gift received, every check cashed in exchange for a post on Instagram—bloggers have to let their readers know about it. While that decree hasn't been monitored too closely, at least it's a step in the right direction.
But what about print publications? Yes, there was that one time a WWD reporter got publicly scolded for posting images from a PR-sponsored weekend getaway. But for the most part, the relationship between advertising and editorial remains murky; when a brand gets a product placement in Vogue and then, 100 pages later, an advertisement from the same brand pops up, there's no note that the featured brand is also an advertiser.
With transparency out the window, we took matters into our own hands by analyzing six of the biggest women's fashion magazines (from all three major publishing houses) to see what percentage of advertisers received editorial touts.
The analysis was the same for each mag: First, we listed all the fashion and beauty brands that advertised in each issue. (Ads for tampons, cigarettes, credit cards, various food products, etc. were left out of the calculations.) Then we combed through the pages to note every brand reference in the editorial pages. We only counted clear mentions: The text had to include the product, price, and directions on where to buy to count as a definite editorial endorsement. After that, the lists were cross-checked to see how many brands had both advertisements and editorial mentions in the same issue.
Here's an overview of what we found; read on for all the details:
At Condé Nast, we examined Vogue, Lucky, and Glamour. Vogue featured 150 different advertisers. This may seem small compared to their total ad sales (631 pages, according to WWD) but many brands paid up for several pages worth of ad space—the Altuzarra for Target campaign commanded an entire 10-page section, plus the back cover. Out of those 152 brands, 52 were also mentioned somewhere in the editorial pages, usually more than once. For example, Céline paid for four pages of ads and racked up 10 editorial mentions throughout the magazine, from the trend features in the front to the fashion editorials at the back. Altogether, 34.21% of the brands that advertised in Vogue popped up in its September editorial pages.
The story was almost identical at Glamour and Lucky. In Glamour, 32 out of 82 total advertised brands were also mentioned on the editorial end, which measured out to 39.02%. At Lucky, the smallest of the September issues, 30.77% of the advertised brands were editorially featured somewhere in the magazine. All three publications hovered around the same average, with about one in every three advertisers also receiving editorial love.
At Hearst, the numbers spiked way up. Marie Claire's stats blew away all three of the Condé titles—69 out of 113 advertising brands were also featured on edit pages, which comes out to a whopping 61.06%. In other words, at least every other fashion or beauty ad that was placed in the magazine scored an editorial counterpart.
Again, the ads and mentions came in multiples for most of the brands. Chanel took out a two-page ad spread in Marie Claire and amassed more than 15 mentions in the magazine's editorial pages.
When we looked at Elle, the percentage wasn't quite as high (but still beat out all three Condé titles). 89 brands out of 182 total fashion and beauty advertisers also claimed editorial mentions, panning out to 48.9% or just under half of the total advertisers.
Finally, we analyzed Time Inc.'s major fashion publication, InStyle. Out of all the magazines, InStyle's ads varied the most in terms of commercial and high-end labels, and the number of total brand mentions (including those who didn't advertise in InStyle) far outweighed the other mags. In the end, 79 out of the 179 brands that advertised with InStyle were also found in the editorial pages for a rate of 44.13%.
When we reached out for comment, Condé Nast stated there was no official correlation between advertisers and editorial coverage. (Both Hearst and Time Inc. didn't reply to our requests by press date.) However, advertiser priority lists are an open secret in the biz, and some magazines try harder than others to fit brands in. For instance, every Vogue fashion editorial except for one in the back of the book included a "beauty note" somewhere in one of the captions. (On page 744: "Balance dreamy florals with an elegantly defined brow. Chanel's Crayon Sourcils Sculpting Eyebrow Pencil offers soft precision in a formula that lasts.") Four out of the five beauty notes recommended brands that also paid for advertising in the issue.