When Fashion and the Law Collide: Harper’s Bazaar List

A collection of documents belonging to Harper’s Bazaar, which were left on the desktop of a Los Angeles hotel’s public lobby computer and contained the magazine’s preferred label list, along with the call sheets for three LA photoshoots, call into question the magazine’s possibly ‘covert marketing’ tactics.

Last year, the FTC revised the advertising rules on endorsements and testimonials to reflect the new media, such as bloggers and social media sites, oftentimes through paid-for reviews, advertisers are using to pitch their wares.

The rules state that bloggers must disclose freebies and financial interests in their reviews, or face fines up to $11,000.

The new rules also require celebrities to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show, Twitter, etc.

The question remains, however, why the rules don’t extend to the traditional media.

The magazine’s list contained the names of the magazine’s preferred fashion labels, divided into two categories: advertisers and non-advertisers. The advertisers were ranked in priority order, the non-advertisers in alphabetical.  Advertisers’ clothes were to be used in a 10-page “editorial” fashion shoot. Non-advertisers’ were optional.

Interpreted broadly, the rules, which state,

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…

Could apply. A fashion editorial is clearly an endorsement, and Harper’s does not disclose the “material connections” between its fashion shoots and the advertisers who buy ads and provide the garments. At least not online.

Should they? When publishers and apparel houses team up to create content, would you like to know?  Or, do readers of women’s magazines know that most of the editorial is bought/paid for by advertisers, so consumers are not “damaged” by the non- disclosure?

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