It turns out that last week’s embarrassing (but entirely not shocking) revelation that advertisers get more play in Harper’s Bazaar fashion editorials is a little more than egg on Glenda Bailey‘s face. The Federal Trade Commission has grounds for taking legal action against the magazine that could change the way our favorite fashion glossies do business for good.
BNet points out that giving preferential treatment to advertisers is in direct violation of FTC regulations. Per the code:
Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers [see § 255.5]. Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.
Clearly being featured in an editorial is a positive review — when was the last time you opened Vogue to find 18 pages of “The Clothes We Love to Hate”? Also, clearly, if Bazaar is ranking the brands it uses in its editorials based on how many ad pages they buy, there’s a material connection. One that, prior to this leak, hadn’t been disclosed by either side. Clearly, the FTC has a case.
Will they pursue it? Who knows? The rules were initially thought to apply to bloggers who got free stuff from brands and touted their swag as the best stuff ever. And sometimes, that kind of schilling constituted false advertising, which is totally illegal.
But with “material connections” existing between advertisers and editorial endorsers virtually everywhere, we wouldn’t be surprised if the FTC forced Harper’s and other fashion magazines into being a little more honest.