Monday, September 21, 2009

Distinctions between ad and edit are sometimes being lost online

The fuzzy alliances of web publishing and advertising, particularly by established print publishers, is illustrated by the recently announced cooperation between Reader's Digest Canada and Kraft Foods. Not that these companies are exceptional, but a release from Reader's Digest highlights their close connection of the editorial and advertising functions online. If a church and state divide exists at all online, it seems to be becoming a paper-thin one.

Reader's Digest has announced the launching of the French-language version of, called The new site, says the release, features localized content, language and measurements for home cooks in Québec, similar to that on the Seattle-based Allrecipes (part of the Food & Entertaining RDA, a division of The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., which attracts about 2 million visits monthly from Canada, 150,000 from Quebec. Worldwide, the site gets about 12 million monthly visitors, with localized versions in United Kingdom/Ireland, Australia/New Zealand, France, Germany and Japan.

Now, here's the language that describes an apparently cosy relationship on the Quebec site:
The Québec launch will feature a four-month exclusive partnership with Kraft Canada that includes banner advertising, text links, integrated Kraft recipes and ingredients on, plus additional advertising on and in the magazine Sélection. One of the key features of Kraft’s partnership will be its Sponsor status, which will enable the company to create a profile to connect and interact directly with the Allrecipes community. We have worked closely with in the past, and now look forward to connecting with Québec home cooks at We have developed some delicious new recipes to cater to the millions of Canadians who enjoy Kraft products.” –Sandra Cifersons - Director, Consumer Communications

Allrecipes’ distinctive user-generated content and social networking platform provide advertisers with a dynamic advertising vehicle, enabling them to reach a highly active and engaged audience of primary household decision makers at their immediate time of need at a time when consumers place the highest level of trust in peer opinions. The seamless integration of branded content into the site’s daily food conversations, members’ recipe ratings, reviews and photos generate powerful results for participating brands to deliver contextual relevance in a trusted and captive environment [my boldface]. Advertising sales for the new site will be handled by the Reader’s Digest Ad Sales and Olive Media.
"Captive environment" and "seamless integration of branded content", indeed.

We asked Robert Goyette, VP, Book Editorial and Editor-in-Chief, Magazines of Readers Digest Canada, to respond to our concerns about different editorial standards online than in print. Here is what he said:
"We do not feel we are crossing any ad-edit guidelines with this site, the first of its kind in French Canada. As you know, this is a reader-contributed web site posting recipes. The source of any posting is clearly mentioned at the top of any item.

For example, the «Saumon en croute» recipe that was online today comes from Kraft Canada and was so labelled in the source field right below the title. When you clicked on that recipe, you moved to the recipe page where another disclosure was added: sponsored by Kraft Canada in two prominent places. I do not believe customers can confuse this with recipes from other members, also clearly identified.

The idea behind the ad-edit guidelines is to make sure there is no confusion in the customer's mind. I think we achieve that clarity on the French Allrecipes site. This is not a site with a great diversity of genres, with features and departments that have to be designed to accommodate advertising. We are creating an environment that allows for clearly-labelled advertising content on its pages."
M. Goyette contends that significant safeguards are built in and that readers won't be confused. One nevertheless wonders if this site is a symptom of what is to come. Not all the Allrecipes versions internationally have such a tight sponsor relationship. In the UK and Australia/New Zealand, there is no evidence of it. But in Germany advertisers actually sponsor individual recipes.

If multi-media publishers move to a low common denominator in terms of ad:edit integrityonline, my concern is it will reduce to gossamer the distinction between paid hustle and legitimate editorial. Am I worried about nothing?

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