Analysis of Editorial Independence of HWM Singapore, April 2019 Issue

This analysis of editorial independence starts off with a brief quantification of the material and content. The inner front and both sides of the back cover show full page ads which is not unusual since magazines, like many forms of media, heavily lean on advertisements as a source of revenue. Of all 92 printed pages including the front and back, 13 contain advertisements. That works out to 14% advertisement coverage. This number is derived by including editorials that I deemed to be advertorials instead (Mathiasen, n.d.).

However, if I include the “micro advertorials” found in the later sections, that number jumps higher. If editorial independence degradation of HWM is further determined by the feeling of a lack of objective analysis, then many segments certainly lack the examination of critical product weaknesses. I contend that there is not a substantial amount of editorial independence based on my analysis backed up with further analysis of magazine content.

Advertorials and Specials vs Editorials

Some advertisements are obvious. Pages 4 and 5 (see Appendix 1) display a Sony Vaio Laptop in the middle of the 2-page spread with the “VAIO” logo at the top right corner accompanied with a brief elaboration on the product. Page 38 (see Appendix 2) is an advertisement for Men’s Health magazine. The inner page of the front cover (see Appendix 3), as with the outer back cover page (see Appendix 4) are both clearly advertisements. As a reader, it is easy to glance and flip the pages to avoid spending time on reading advertisements. I at least feel that my power to give attention is respected.

However, pages 8 and 9 (see Appendix 5) take a different turn. The former reads like an advertorial, while the latter looks like an ordinary advertisement. The top right corner of page 8 displays “FUJIFILM SPECIAL”. It is not immediately clear whether page 8 is an X-T30 review or a Fujifilm advertisement. Labelling it “Special” (Hollstein, 1990) seems to suggest that this is indeed an advertorial designed to arrest the attention of readers who suffer from advertisement fatigue.

Pages 15 (see Appendix 6) and 17 (see Appendix 7) showcase the same pattern of displaying the brand name, followed by the word “SPECIAL”, in their respective top right corners. Page 17 is insidious in that it shows “SINGTEL SPECIAL” in the boxed texts, reads like an advertorial and uses 3 out of 4 columns of text to hawk the strengths of the Samsung Galaxy S10 and S10+ smartphone and Watch. Pages 8, 15 and 17 all display no discernable negative comments, hallmarks of advertorials and advertisements. Instead, only the pros were stated. The 3 pages also list product specifications and links to their brand website or Instagram accounts.

Pages 34 and 35 (see Appendix 8) also read like an advertorial. Though crafted as a “Q&A”, it comes off as an IoT company showcase instead. Hence, these pages suggest that HWM adopts the use of advertorials, deceptively crafted to look like an editorial piece, as a means to increase advertisement effectiveness. 

Micro Advertorials

The “Gear” section from page 11 (see Appendix 9) features tech products. Pages 11 to 23, except 15 and 17, showcase product images prominently with short blurbs that highlight product strengths and specifications which read like condensed advertorials. I noted that pages 24 to 27 (see Appendix 10) show more than one product or brand on a single page. That seems to suggest that brands could pay for their product to appear on its own page and avoid sharing space with other brands.

Brand Saturation in Tests

As a reader, I enjoy being informed of new and upcoming brands, even if they are unknown. This expands the repertoire of brands and products so the average consumer knows what is out there. In the “Test” segment of HWM, the following brands had their products tested, reviewed and rated: Samsung, Dell, Mercedes-Benz, Epson, Canon and BenQ (see Appendix 11). These are all brands with deep advertising pockets and arguably, fantastic products and are also well-known for which no introduction is needed. I see the correlation with pleasing these brands for current and future advertising spends, and this surely comes at a cost to editorial independence. Additionally, no adverse negative opinions or comments were raised on these products.

In the “Test” section on graphics cards, 5 brands were featured (see Appendix 12). Asus appears as a contender. Asus’s products also appeared on other pages. Though, merit must be given to HWM for using benchmarks and standardised tests (see Appendix 13) to review graphics cards and eventually crown the Asus card as a winner (see Appendix 14). Yet, I can’t help but feel that this test is tainted with Asus marketing influence over it. Granted, the consumer ultimately wishes to know which graphics card is the best. A test with quantitative measures aids in decision making, but a further explanation of the methodology used would allay any suspicion about tests rigged in favour of one brand.

But, Asus products also appeared in the “Best of” categories, with Asus taking the title of “Best Gaming Smartphone” in its ROG Phone (see Appendix 15), and “Best Value Smartphone” in its “Zenfone Max Pro M2” (see Appendix 16). The other nominees for their respective “best of” categories are serious contenders, yet the question remains: Why Asus? Could it be that Asus products really dominate the tech arena, or do they have deep marketing budget pockets?

Samsung products are also featured prominently across 12 pages based on the number of times a Samsung product appears on a page or is mentioned. Samsung’s “presence” thus occupies a substantial 13% of HWM. In the “Learn” section, Samsung’s phone UI occupies a 2-page spread where HWM writes about 5 features where Samsung’s UI beats stock Android (see Appendix 17). I disagree on 2 points and find the other 3 unworthy of a mention. This piece thus feels to me like another Samsung marketing piece masquerading as an editorial.

Conclusion

Some HWM reviews lack a substantive number of negatives as compared to positive opinions and views. The blurry distinction between an advertisement and editorial found on some pages further adds to the feel that HWM does not fully own its editorial rights.

References

Hollstein, M. (1990, December). `DISGUISED ADS’ CREEP INTO BOTH MAGAZINES AND TV. Deseret News. Retrieved from https://www.deseretnews.com/article/138845/DISGUISED-ADS-CREEP-INTO-BOTH-MAGAZINES-AND-TV.html

Mathiasen, S. F. (n.d.). The ultimate guide to advertorials. Native Advertising Institute. Retrieved from https://nativeadvertisinginstitute.com/blog/the-ultimate-guide-to-advertorials/

Appendix 1

HWM Pages 4-5

Appendix 2

HWM Page 38

Appendix 3

HWM Inner Page of Front Cover

Appendix 4

HWM Back Cover

Appendix 5

HWM Pages 8-9

Appendix 6

HWM Page 15

Appendix 7

HWM Page 17

Appendix 8

HWM Pages 34-35

Appendix 9

HWM Page 11

Appendix 10

HWM Pages 26-27

Appendix 11

HWM Pages 68-69

Appendix 12

HWM Pages 54-55

Appendix 13

HWM Page 61

Appendix 14

HWM Pages 62-63

Appendix 15

HWM Pages 50-51

Appendix 16

HWM Pages 48-49

Appendix 17

HWM Pages 84-85