Call of Duty Makes "Cover" of EGM

You may remember a few posts back when I said that the back cover of a game magazine was the most valuable real estate that a game publisher could buy. Turns out I was wrong.

Check out the below image of the EGM cover that was just delivered to my door today (click this and any other image here for a larger version).

On first glance, it seems like most any other EGM cover. There’s the big, distinctive EGM logo right there, after all. There’s a little less text than usual, and only one game featured, but it could still pass for a cover. It’s only after a few seconds of examination that the Activision logo and the “advertisement” label at the top show this “cover” is not the real cover at all.

Open up to the first “page” and find the following spread:

This is at least obviously an advertisement, but we’ve now seen three pages of ads before even getting to the real cover of the magazine. The final flip:

Another ad page, and there’s the real cover. You can tell because it uses the same logo that was just on top of an advertisement a few pages back, only now there’s actual editorial text promoting a postmortem feature on four of the biggest games of the season (none of which is Call of Duty, incidentally).

Video game magazines are of course about making money, and making money in the mag business is all about selling ads. There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling as much as space as you can wherever you can sell it. When you place an ad in front of the cover, though, with your own logo pasted across the top, you can make that ad seem like more than it is.

When a reader looks at the cover of a magazine, they expect to see the most important games or features of that issue, as decided by the editorial team. Placing an ad where this editorial content usually appears is a bit of a bait-and-switch, even with the “advertisement” label at the top of the page. Most, if not all, readers will quickly figure out the true nature of the spread, but probably not before initially processing the entire page as a true cover image. The reader has to erase this impression before getting to the real cover, but by this point the magazine name and the game name have been indelibly linked.

This link is probably a good thing for Activision and probably not a good thing for EGM. First off, the prominent placement of the EGM logo on the ad could be seen by some readers as a de facto endorsement of the game. True, it’s labeled as an advertisement, but other advertisements don’t get a large “Electronic Gaming Monthly” label at the top. What makes Call of Duty different? Maybe the guys at EGM just like it more. After all, their magazine’s name is right there on the ad, in big type.

Some readers may go even farther, making the jump to assuming an illicit relationship between the magazine and the ad buyer. A quid pro quo theory might easily spring to the reader’s mind — you buy a cover ad from us, and we’ll give you prominent placement and a good review score (Call of Duty appears on the front page of the issue’s review section and got an average score of 8.0). Even though the charge of preferential treatment likely has no basis, such an impression on the reader can be hard to erase.

I have yet to see this issue on the newsstand, but the ad appearing on that version of the cover would present another level of deception to the casual passerby, who might not be able to process the image as an ad. Again, such a misconception can only be good for Activision and bad for the magazine — I’d wager people are much more likely to pick up a magazine with a cover advertising “top secrets” to four hot games than a generic Call of Duty image.

In my view, the placement of the EGM logo on top of a cover-covering ad is, at the very least, a misleading practice that presents the appearance of a conflict of interest. If you insist on putting an ad over your carefully crafted cover, make sure it’s labeled clearly and make sure you keep your logo out of the mix.

As a postscript, the back cover of this issue of EGM features an ad for the Ford Mustang — one of the few non-game ads I’ve recently seen anywhere in a game magazine. Did Call of Duty get bumped to the front seat by Ford?

18 thoughts on “Call of Duty Makes "Cover" of EGM

  1. I should ammend that last comment I made…

    I should have written, “If you don’t mention that the call of duty ad was a separate pamphlet, rather than an attached cover, then that’s just as deceptive.”

  2. I just wanted to add to what Shawn said and point out that GamePro has been doing this for a year.

    They were the ones that had the PoP foldout last year, it was glued to every subscription issue.


    I get GamePro for free alright! Stop looking at me like that!

    John @

  3. I’m amazed by most of the comments. “This is common practice” is bullshit and even if it were… who cares? It wouldn’t have invalidated the point, which you seem to have missed anyway.

    The point is that doing this kind of ad is telling your readers: “our editorial voice doesn’t matter, here’s some ads for you with our logo on it, p.s. we’re shit”.

    This ad is in a completely different league than IGN plastering its site with McDonalds ads or something like that. It’s not about the advertisements being an annoyance, it’s about EGM hurting itself by selling its COVER, which is clearly something game publishers shouldn’t be making for them. How retarded.

  4. Nice detective work guy. I like how you figured out which was the real cover and which was the ad by reading the text that read “Advertisement”. Great work! I’ll have to keep my eye on you. I hear Scotland Yard is looking for new recruits.

  5. this is common practice. “advertisement” is clearly visible at the top. plus the lack of cover teasers is a dead giveaway.

    i don’t think people are that stupid, especially after a few seconds of inspection.

  6. Surely your effort to realize it was an advertisement is grossly exagerated. I realized at first glance of the picture you posted.

    The ad is obviously an attachment, as you can see the real cover at the edges of the ad. Considering how many things are starting to use front cover attachments, that has become an immediate give-away.

    The ad doesn’t actually look like a real cover beyond the magazine name itself. Not only is it missing information, it actually looks like a regular interior ad with the magazine name pasted over it. The prominent system logos at the bottom go with this as well, even though they are pretty much a dead giveaway of something by themselves.

    And the word “Advertisement” is actually visible, and in a location where the viewer’s eyes will actually be drawn.

    It isn’t anywhere near as bad as the fake feature ads that appear inside of magazines. Nor is it as annoying (at least to me) as fold-out ads. And it acts as free cover protection, which considering the mail delivery around here would sometimes be useful…

    (Strangely enough, I find the first clue for at least some fake feature ads is that they are composed with a much higher quality than some magazines’ actual features. Better visual layout, better pictures used, and better description even with the bias…)

  7. You might like to know the newsstand edition doesn’t have this ad at all and that it comes in a plastic cover that completely hides the actual front page. The cover does show an equivalent content to the front page though. I guess this is EGM’s compromise; they don’t wanna lose newsstand sales, so they just let that ad on the subscription issues.

  8. I’ve been a subscriber to EGM for about five years now, and when I saw how they did that cover I had a coniption fit the likes few have seen. I’m glad you’ve brought this issue up bucuase when ads get in the way of the news there’s trouble…

  9. same thing was done by jetblue in the boston herald a while back (a large, tabloid daily paper like the ny post)

  10. So, it was an advertising pamphlet, seperate from the magazine itself, that came in the same bag as the magazine?

    Would anyone have been confused once they opened the bag and saw two different magazines fall out? No. In all likelihood the magazine title on the advertisement was insisted on by egm so that people receiving the bag o’ mag would have known that they’d just received their monthly subscription and not an unsolicited advertising package.

    I mean, did you actually hold 2 magazines in your hand and think that you were holding only one with a very long piece of photo-journalism in the front? No? Then where’s the deception?

    By the way, if you don’t mention that the advertisement wasn’t ACTUALLY the cover of the magazine, then that’s just as deceptive.

  11. Like many people, I’ve paid for my subscription to magazine X.The first thing I do (and I’ve taught my father to do the same) is to go through and take/tear out all the fold overs, post cards and anything else that isn’t ‘normal’.But I’m with the author, those fake cover pages are a different type of monster.Even though I do my best to ignore all the extra ads, they steal a few precious seconds of my life.What really peeves me is when they do it to the sunday comics…i mean come on. advertising on the funny pages?

  12. Guess I didn’t make this entirely clear in my post, so I’ll clarify. What came to me in the mail was not in a poly-bag. The 4-page Call of Duty spread was <>glued<> to the front of the magazine, covering up the actual cover. In the third picture of the post, you can see how it was attached to the cover on left side.

    So I did not hold two magazines in my hand, I held one magazine with an advertisement glued to the front.

  13. Playstation Magazine did the same thing this month — I just received January 2005’s edition with a deceptive advertising cover as well, this one was for Shadow Hearts Covenant. The actual cover, however, features Grand Turismo 4.

  14. I don’t see a problem with this with a magazine.
    EGM put its logo on it because somehow people need to realize it’s EGM Magazine on the newstand.
    When I looked at it, my eye went to the EGM logo, and then the “Advertisement” wording, and then, oddly, down to the logos of the systems the game is available on. That’s another tip off right there that this is an ad. Really, it’s quite clear it looks like every other video game ad I’ve seen.
    This “cover” looks nothing like an EGM regular cover when you compare the two.
    And anyone who doesn’t think EGM gets something for featuring a game on their regular cover is fooling themselves. All real estate in a magazine is valuable and with all the games out there, publishers will do whatever they can to get that little extra edge.

  15. Although many trade magazines practice this, I still think it is a conflict of interest. The only way to keep advertising separate from your publication is to, not surprisingly, keep it separate from the publication! Instead of accepting the delivery of an ad, EGM collaborates on this one, lending their own “likeness” to it. While it is easy to tell the difference between this ad and the real cover, using that as an argument for EGM and Activision’s use of the space sidesteps the real issue. To keep an objective focus, magazines should not be lending their copyrights to industry advertisers.

  16. This kind of thing may be in trade publications, but EGM is not a trade publication. It’s a mass-market video game interest magazine, and this is definitely journalistically suspecious. People who don’t see it that way, I’d suggest, are just used to it from a video game press in which advertisers have far too much power and editors and publishers who are way too eager to get into bed with them.

    Remember EGM’s old days? I loathed them back then, in the Genesis era, when it was common to give a company a 32-page advertisement “section” masquerading as a feature. I haven’t kept up with them since then, but from reading this, I’d say nothing has changed.

  17. The first time I saw this done was last year around this time, there were a couple magazines (I believe EGM was one of them) that had a similar glued-on pamphlet ad “cover” for Prince of Persia. I was disgusted and reminded of one of many reasons I haven’t read EGM for several years now. Blech.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *