When the topic of native advertising comes up, your first thought is probably online native advertising. But the trend has made its way to the printed pages now too, and association publishers are challenged with deciding whether and just how far they can push the boundaries of merging editorial content and native advertising in their publications. It’s certainly a blurred line, a hot topic of debate. And there is no clear consensus on the best solution for publishers. So what concepts did our team come up with to represent this cover story topic?

This is post #10 in a series of blog posts on magazine cover design strategy. Follow the link to visit the rest of our posts in the series.

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This post will uncover how our team brought the Signature March/April 2015 issue’s cover story to life through design.


This first concept focused on the idea of bringing “traditional” online native advertising to the cover. The designer’s idea was to capture a website’s interface, almost like a realistic looking screenshot of a webpage on the cover. The cover design would pull in the article’s headline and some of the article’s content to represent the native advertising on the webpage.


The second concept centered on the idea of making the cover design a native ad for Signature. The designer explains, “I was thinking we could place a sponsor of this issue’s content above the nameplate. Text above the nameplate could read ‘Brought to You By.’” The Bates design team was intrigued by this idea. The designer went on to say, “At the bottom of the cover, above the coverlines, we could add in ‘Other Stories from (insert sponsor here)’ to play up how native advertisers are requesting to add in editorial content to association publications instead of traditional display advertising.”

“…Native advertisers are requesting to add in editorial content to association publications instead of traditional display advertising.”


A third concept for this cover had more of a playful feel to it – think Mr. Potato Head. The designer described her concept as “showing a generic page template where the ads and content are personified. The pieces of content that are supposed to be ads will be wearing hats, mustaches, and other items to help them ‘fit in’ to the editorial content on the page.” The design team was immediately drawn to this concept for its playful tone and obvious spoof on advertising transforming itself into editorial content in a publication.


The fourth concept came from our art director, Ernie, who described his idea saying,

“The cover could have a linear pattern that has the main headline embedded into shapes in the pattern. This will create a visual illusion that subtly reveals the headline.”

The design team was impressed with this idea from the onset, especially loving how it evokes the sense that native advertising is beginning to flow into editorial content and how some publishers are adapting to this new environment and opportunity.

Right off the bat, the two favorites that stuck out to our design team were Undercover Editorial and In Plain Sight. The team explored all four concepts with editorial director Carla Kalogeridis who agreed that those two were her favorites as well.

Once our designers mocked up the two finalists into a more defined cover design, the winning concept was clear — or was it?

The winning concept was the team favorite for several reasons, but mostly because of the unique play on the cover story’s main message. While our cover design may not be “clear,” it is clear that native advertising is creating a blurring of the line between editorial and advertising in some publications. Speaking of a grey area, our designers discussed what the best color palette was for the final cover design and immediately decided to go with a black and white palette to evoke that sense of “grey area” even more.

Was the winning cover concept your favorite out of the bunch? Tweet your feedback to @BATESCREATES and @ASSNMEDIAPUB