The blogging community is up in arms regarding an article in AdAge [registration required] dealing with BP editorial guidelines for print publications. I won't defend BP, but just to add my $0.02 to the conversation, these types of guidelines are in use across the industry and are nothing new. At my first agency job, I had to implement them and deal with them for a particular advertiser, and that was more than 10 years ago. As I understand it, the guidelines had been in effect for several years prior. This is nothing new.
The new twist, however, is that the fact that they exist is now visible to the general public. Admittedly, in my first agency gig, I was taken aback by the existence of editorial guidelines in the first place. Coming from a journalism background, I perceived them as an attempt to influence editorial content. My supervisor told me that this wasn't the case, as we were simply asking for the opportunity to pull the ad away from content that would negatively affect the ad's perception. But I never really bought that. If a publication knows that any editorial coverage that negatively impacts an advertising client will almost certainly result in the ad being pulled, that can certainly be an influence on what is printed.
Again, I'm not defending BP. But a relatively common advertising practice just happens to be coming to light in the context of a completely different political landscape than the one that existed when guidelines like these became a standard industry practice.
Nor am I defending the practice itself. I just wanted to point out that it's nothing new. What's new is that now it's coming to light.