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Where do you stand on advertorials?

It's a question that gets asked a lot. Advertorials tend to cause considerable debate amongst editorial teams and writers alike. Usually any discussion on the topic ends up with words such as morality and ethics being thrown into the conversation.

Why is this?

Personally, I don't see the problem with advertorials. I never have done. But, then again, I'm a writer, so maybe I'm a little biased.

You see, after all, I get paid to write advertorials. And they pay pretty well, as it happens.

The client gets what the client wants. So, if the client wants an advertorial. I write them one. I get paid. Everybody goes away happy.

Does that mean I'm a bad person? Does it mean I'm somehow unclean? Does it mean I'm engaging in some sort of dirty, immoral behaviour?

No. It doesn't.

My head is held high because I've done my job well and I sleep soundly in my bed at night. And, just to be clear, I would actually consider myself to be a person who does have morals and principles.

All in the name

I suppose when you consider what the big issue with advertorials is the clue is really in the name 'Advert-orial'. The root of the problem is the blending of the two words 'advertisement' and 'editorial'. From its outset, is it the portmanteau that suggests that a clever trick is being played on the audience?

Yes, an advertorial is ostensibly made to look, read and feel like a news article or editorial piece from a particular publication.

But is that a deception? Or is it a skill?

The editor’s view

Of course, it is right and proper that publications have an editorial policy. It is correct that they hold that policy up as set of values to adhere to.
Here is a completely made-up but very typical (I should know — I've seen a few) editorial policy on advertorials:

"The distinction between editorial content and marketing content should be clear to the average reader, regardless of the format or platform. On websites populated by varied sources of content: aggregated, marketer-provided or user-generated, special care must be taken to distinguish between advertising content and editorial content. Advertising content that deliberately attempts to mimic the style, look and feel of the publication should not be allowed."

Does that sound familiar? As I said, it's a fairly typical editorial take on advertorials

In a print publication which features advertorial content, it is usually marked by subtle differences. Perhaps being printed in a different font, framed by a box, or with the word 'Advertisement' appearing above or below the content.

The writer's view

I have no problem with the above — 'The editorial view'. I think it does enough to ensure that readers will not be deceived into thinking an advertorial is a straightforward editorial article.

Whether, it's absolutely necessary in the 21st century is another question altogether.

The term 'advertorial' was first coined in 1946 — and, yes, I suspect that back at the back end of the 1940s, when readers first encountered this new, quite clever advertising tactic, maybe some people were duped into thinking they were reading an editorial.

But not now. Not in 2016.

I think we can reasonably expect readers to know the difference between genuine news and advertising.

In my view, there is an art to good advertorial writing. For me, it's about knowing the publication and understanding the audience. An advertorial should be all about the reader — they should see themselves in the advertorial. I suppose the ultimate goal is that if you were to take away the brand name, logo, call to action - and the word 'advertisement' from the advertorial, its content would blend effortlessly with the rest of the publication.

That's a skill. Not a deception.

The moral high ground

In conclusion, I don't think there is any need whatsoever for anybody to take the moral high ground on advertorials.

To writers thinking that writing advertorials somehow goes against some sort of moral code, I would say this — you are just writing for a client, meeting the needs of a brief and communicating a message in exactly the same way that you do with most other types of writing. But, an advertorial calls for a particular craft and a fair amount of skill to do really well.

To editors mulling over the ethics of including advertorials in their publication, I would say this — Have some faith in your audience's ability to differentiate between ads and content. And, remember, without the revenue you receive from advertising, the editorial policy and the values that you hold so dear would mean nothing. Because your publication wouldn't exist.

The irony of it all

There's a certain amount of hypocrisy when it comes to views about advertorials.

We should remember that everything in the media is, in effect, manipulation of the audience.

Everything the audience sees in the media is re-presented in a certain way.

And in the USA, the ratio between public relations employees (who are paid to manipulate news and public opinion on a daily basis) and news journalists is 4:1.

So, are advertorials really so bad?

Mark R.

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