Brandchannel has been debating the product placement issues we’re seeing with recent magazine covers. And, there are rules – or, rather, “guidelines” – developed by the American Society of Magazine Editors for advertising in print magazines. One such guideline states:

The cover is the editor and publisher’s brand statement. Advertising on the cover increases the likelihood of editorial-advertising conflicts. The cover and spine should not be used to advertise products other than the magazine itself.

Thus, the page you see staring at you in the checkout line – begging you to pick it up, open it up, purchase it and read it – should entice you on content alone and shouldn’t be an advertisement for a product. However, the newest issue of GQ, featuring Hollywood it-girl, Mila Kunis, might be teetering on this line. Mila is seen sipping out of a clear, logo-less cup with a green straw. Anyone who’s been outside in the past 40 years would easily recognize this cup, and especially the straw, as coming from Starbucks (with the famous logo carefully eliminated). Is this advertising? Sort of. Is this something else? Arguably, this is better deemed product placement. But does it blatantly violate the ASME guidelines?

According to the ASME’s guidelines on product placement,

Publishers should not accept payment from advertisers to place or promote products in editorial content.

Editors should not create content, place content near advertisements, promote products or cover a public figure associated with an advertised product in exchange for advertising.

A fashion spread, including a cover shot, is editorial. Many fashion spreads have featured iconic bags or accessories (think Hermes Birkin bag or Ray-Ban Wayfarer – these are easily identifiable sans logo to the fashion savvy reader) and these are usually given/loaned to the editorial staff to dress the model. So, is Starbucks the newest fashion accessory? Perhaps. And, if Starbucks didn’t “pay” GQ for this placement, then it would seem this placement of the cup in the cover shot doesn’t violate the guidelines. Maybe Mila just stopped by the coffee giant on her way to the shoot in need of a quick mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I guess we’ll never know. I think this is definitely product placement, but according to the guidelines, there’s nothing wrong with that so long as the publishers did not accept payment from the advertiser.

Want to see more starlets with their frappes? All you have to do is google Starbucks & Hollywood and you’ll get Nicky Hilton, Britney Spears, Jessica Alba, Hilary Duff, and Eva Longoria within the first handful of images.

Get an interesting take on Starbucks’ bundle of IP here.