Feature

Media: Russell Davies

I have seen the future, and it's a bit blurry. Have you ever read Blag magazine? You should, it's rather splendid.

A stylish combination of music, fashion, photography and interviews. You could imagine it shelved between i-D and Wallpaper*. It's a quarterly, produced by twin sisters, Sally and Sarah Edwards, who do almost everything in the magazine themselves. But the thought-provoking thing about it is that it doesn't carry any ads.

It throws you when you first open the magazine; the lack of ads dislocates the expected grammar of magazine reading, freeing you from flicking past the first ten spreads. It's like watching a US TV programme on the BBC: you fade out for an ad break, then immediately fade back in. It's odd, but rather pleasant, making you realise how much the presence of advertising has coloured our expectations of media. An ad-free magazine feels as startling as a novel with the occasional colour spread.

But Blag isn't brand-free, and the way it integrates brands gives us some hints about the future where advertorials, branded content, branded utility and everything else gets messily blurred together. It's a future that would horrify the massed bastions of old-media editorial, especially those American news organisations always bleating about the sacred barrier between advertising and editorial. The Blag team don't worry about that; they'll create editorial for you, weaving the brand into the magazine in a way that goes far beyond the typically lame advertorial.

Of course, us old-school stalwarts will throw up our liver-spotted hands at this point and wail about the separation of church and state, lamenting the confusion that could befall the innocent reader on finding advertising not clearly labelled as such. But talking to the Blag folk the other week, I realised this approach just isn't going to survive contact with a newer generation and a new communications world.

They see this editorial/advertising distinction as ridiculous; they preserve the integrity of their magazine by managing the branded content with the same verve and vision as the rest of the thing. They select brands that make sense for the magazine and create brand content that'll work for their readership, making for a much more interesting overall product and never risking the kind of car-crash of editorial and advertising you get in so many magazines.

As brands become content providers, as interruption gets less effective and as media owners get more desperate, this is a blurry line we're all going to have to confront.

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