Why the Forbes Native Advertising Cover Isn’t the End of the World

Brandon Carter
Brandon Carter

a pile of magazines on a chair

Forbes caused quite the stir last week when news floated that a paid story would appear on the cover of its latest issue. The Magazine Cover, as Adage pointed out, is essentially the final, ad-free frontier. Until now… or so the story goes.

At particular issue is the fact that the ad isn’t clearly labeled as a paid experience. Only the term “FidelityVoice” gives any indication that the featured story comes from an advertising partner (Forbes typically brands its native program with the word “voice”). In the familiar narrative on native advertising, this is something of an underhanded tactic.

But here’s the thing:

Forbes didn’t put an ad on its cover.

Yes, Fidelity, an advertiser, received a shout-out for producing an infographic on retirement. But the cover doesn’t show the infographic or even let on that the Fidelity story is in fact an infographic. And since you can’t click the text on the cover, you can’t mistakenly experience the infographic based on the information conveyed. Heck, if Forbes was really trying to trick you, they’d at least tell you which page to find the story on — and they don’t even do that!


Cover of the latest Forbes Issue


What we have instead is an ad for an ad that appears somewhere in the pages of the latest Forbes issue. Which doesn’t tell you much. Magazines usually have ads in them. And many of them could be characterized as “native.”

Without the benefit of flipping through the pages, it’s hard to say which standards of quality the Fidelity infographic lives up to, or if it is properly disclosed at the point when a reader could encounter it, like the table of contents or certainly on the infographic itself. One would hope so.

But Forbes seems pretty at ease with its decision to feature Fidelity on the cover. And based on the information conveyed on the cover itself, I can’t say I blame them.

The real story here is that Forbes thought a paid editorial experience was worthy of spotlighting on its cover. If native advertising is going to flourish, all native ads should aspire to the level of quality storytelling and editorial value such that they could feature on the cover of a respected publication. Otherwise, it’ll die on the vine.

Featured image courtesy of Mira Pangkey via Flickr.

Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter

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