Deception, by nature, is often hard to spot. And hard to define. After all, in many cases deception itself can be a matter of opinion, and on top of that there are matters of degree.

The recent blog- and forum-driven storm over wine-writing ethics has focused on factors that can be very hard to get a grip on, namely the possibility that wine critics’ assessments of individual wines (and/or entire portfolios) can or have been impacted by unseen/unspoken perks (trips, dinners, insider access, etc.).

That firestorm, along with a more general publishing issue—the ethics of advertising being integrated into actual magazine covers (story here)—got me thinking that now is a good time to visit the question of: When is a label reproduction that appears in a wine magazine actually a paid promotion rather than an editorial graphic?

With that in mind, I am planning to stop by Borders today to check out the current crop of wine magazines, to see how, where and when labels are used. Before I report back, I’d like to invite Wine Skewer readers to toss their current perceptions into the mix. Ask yourself: Can you tell when a wine label is just a label, and when it’s an ad? And do you think the average magazine reader/peruser knows?

All together now: Hmmmmmm….

UPDATE (April 30,2009)–Local Borders was way slim in wine mags, so I’ll keep looking. Meanwhile, consider this excerpt from the American Society of Magazine Editors website:


For magazines to be trusted by consumers and to endure as brands, readers must be assured of their editorial integrity. With that core conviction in mind—and the overwhelming support of its members—the American Society of Magazine Editors for over two decades has issued guidelines to make sure that the difference between advertising and editorial content is transparent to readers and that there is no advertiser influence or pressure on editorial independence. In this latest edition, we have aimed to make the guidelines easier to understand and to distill them into ten basic statements of principle and practice. ASME will continue to advise editors and publishers about how to interpret the guidelines. Repeated and willful violations will result in public sanction and disqualification from the National Magazine Awards.

Advertisements should look different enough from editorial pages that readers can tell the difference. To avoid confusion, any ad that looks enough like an editorial story or feature that it could be mistaken for one should be slugged Advertisement or Promotion at the top of each page in type as prominent as the magazines normal body type.

{For full text: link to}

Food for thought. As seen in my replies to comments form the original post, the thre main glossies take very different approaches to label reproductions. Back with more tomorrow…