Sunday, March 21, 2010

Too close for comfort

What you see above are scans of two facing pages from the March 10, 2010, issue of Card Player magazine. (I wish I could have put them side by side, so that you see them as they appear in the magazine, but my scanner isn't big enough, and stitching them digitally is a little beyond my technical know-how.)

My first reaction upon opening this spread was, "Oh, Evelyn Ng got a column in Card Player. I didn't know that." (I admit that I then had some unkind thoughts about her qualifications as a columnist, but those aren't relevant here.) Then I started reading Steve Zolotow's column. I was puzzled when I got to the end of the page, because it wasn't finished. Instead of continuing onto the next page, an arrow directs the reader to turn the page.

Card Player never splits editorial material this way; they run things continuously. (Thank heaven. I hate the "continued on page 93" kind of searches to read the rest of an article.) That was the first time it occurred to me that Ng's piece might be an advertisement. So I looked more closely, and, sure enough, it says so at the top of the page.

Now, if I had been thinking about it a little more, I might have realized that no other writer in the magazine gets half of the page taken up with the identifying photograph, so something was amiss. But I think it's perfectly obvious that the Bodog ad is designed to mislead the reader, at least initially. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that Ng's piece (and, incidentally, I'd bet a hefty sum that she didn't even write the copy that shows up under her name) uses exactly the same typeface and size as the actual columnists, such as Zolotow, for both the body of the piece and the headline.

I am surprised that Card Player is complicit in this attempt to deceive its readers. If I ran the magazine, this kind of camouflaging of an ad to look like editorial copy would not be allowed. Responsible publications have unmistakably clear delineations between the editorial contents and the ads. Even meaningless little blogs like this one make sure to keep that line bright, if their authors have any sense of integrity. That was a large part of the reason that so many of us reacted unfavorably to PokerStars making a pathetic effort to bribe us into blurring the distinction last month.

I think Card Player should require Bodog and other advertisers not only to put the "advertisement" disclaimer at the top, but to use distinctly different fonts, so that even at a glance it is immediately apparent that a piece such as Ng's is an ad rather than part of what the magazine is offering its readers.


Soon after posting the above, reader "qdpsteve" emailed me a photo that stitches together the two pages, so you can more easily see what it looks like when you open the magazine. The result lost some resolution, which makes it harder to see how the fonts are identical, so I'm adding it here rather than replacing the two separate pages above.

Thanks, Steve!


qdpsteve said...

Rakewell, please check your email. I stitched the images together for you and sent the GIF to you. Hope the resolution in the image I sent is still good enough to post...

Anonymous said...

Rakewell, this is called an "advertorial". It is an advertisement that is meant to look like a story in the magazine.

Here's what ABM editorial code of ethics says:

With respect to special advertising supplements or advertorials: The words “advertising,” “advertisement,” “special advertising supplement” or similar labeling must appear horizontally at or near the center of the top of every page of such sections containing text, in type at least equal in size and weight to the publication’s standard body typeface.

While it is "misleading" it is a lot more common than you think.