Perhaps you would buy a smartphone for its camera if you knew it was used to photograph the rapper Cardi B on the cover of W magazine. Or actress Angela Bassett on the cover of Allure. Or Ryan Gosling on the cover of GQ.
If so, you might prefer to know that the company pushing this phone—Google in this case—paid for this partnership, and that the magazine, owned by publisher Conde Nast, made a business decision rather than expressing an aesthetic or technological preference. You may want to know photographers didn’t necessarily decide that this was the ideal device.
Regardless of your personal preferences, federal advertising guidelines in the US certainly require such disclosures. In advertising, “the watchword is transparency,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers need to know when they are looking at paid promotional materials.
Yet Google’s new approach to promoting its Pixel phone’s photographic prowess presents a very murky picture that may not meet these standards. The tech company has partnered with Conde Nast publishing and celebrities to create advertisements that don’t seem like ads at all. The publisher is using the Pixel phone in magazines like Vogue, GQ, Allure, and Glamour, by photographing stars like Bassett and Ryan Gosling with the phone’s camera.
You might not even know about it. But you might learn in other ways, such as through a mention on social media.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a partnership between Google and Condé Nast, which the publisher’s chief creative officer, Raul Martinez, described in a press release last month: “Photographing our covers with the Pixel 3 was a compelling challenge, impressing even our most discerning photographers. This strategic partnership with Google is an example of how we’re innovating to bring our audiences content that is created and distributed in new ways that reflect the cutting edge of the industry.”
The Fashion Law notes that “it is not immediately obvious that these covers are a promotion for anything.” Nevertheless, by not explicitly noting the relationship between the publisher and the device maker, the covers may be crossing the line, it adds.