What are advertorials?

The hyper stimulated digital environment that the marketing industry currently finds itself navigating has created unprecedented possibilities for content creation. It greatly helps our clients in transmitting their products and messages to consumers, thus potentially leading to larger client bases, and, ultimately greater profits.

An increasingly controversial method of content creation that has seen an explosion in the digital age is the use of advertorials to tell branded and structured stories to consumers. An advertorial is, quite simply, a cross between an advertisement and an editorial piece—be it written, audio or video. The stories told through print advertorials are designed to mimic the structure of a journalistic article, but are highly tailored and branded in order to encourage the purchase of a particular product or service. Because they are less hard-hitting than a “Buy Now” message, advertorials have had a great deal of success in delivering messages and selling products and services through print and online editorial platforms.

Why are advertorials controversial?

Herein lies the controversy surrounding advertorials. Journalistic content has long been considered—at least idealistically—a sacred medium for readers, listeners and viewers to receive an unbiased, objective account of an event or issue. As such, there is a societal assumption that, if certain editorial content graces the internal pages of a newspaper or a news website, it adheres to those standards. There should be clearly distinct ads because, hey, they have to make money somewhere, and there should be editorial content. The two are typically considered mutually exclusive, at least in the eyes of journalistic purists.

So, given that advertorials are such a double-sided coin, some major questions arise from how exactly marketers should use them. Is the use of advertorials to sell products ethical? Are there ways we can ensure that we are not deceiving the consumer? Do we, as marketers, have an obligation to ensure we are transparent in how we deliver content to consumers?

Simply put, content is content. For the most part, the more quality content that is produced for a company, the better off that company will be. On the Internet, tailored content is used in abundance for brand awareness, SEO, and generally to provide useful information to customers. Advertorials fit very nicely with this idea of “if you produce quality content that people want to read, you are more likely to sell a product”. They are very useful if you are willing to spend the time and money to do them properly.

But, given that advertorials are generally created to mimic journalistic content and, as such, could incorrectly carry the same level of “truth” as, say, a newspaper article in the eyes of a reader, there are certain guidelines that should be follow to ensure your content remains ethical.

How do I make sure my advertorial is ethical?

Content creators for marketing should keep the following in mind when writing and publishing their advertorials:

1)    You should never deceive your customer or attempt to trick them into buying a product. Perhaps the biggest complaint about advertorials is that they are often not clearly portrayed as being paid content but are rather presented as journalistic articles with no clear indication of their intent. This lack of transparency, in essence, deceives your reader by not being honest about the true nature of your advertorial.

2)    As such, marketers should always be transparent about their intent. People these days are pretty used to advertorials being in their magazine, newspaper or blog. As such, you must respect their time and give the reader a clear indicator of what kind of content your article is so they can make an informed decision about its value. As such, marketers should include disclaimers in their articles that clearly state that a certain article is an “advertisement”. Trying to pull the wool over the eyes of your reader will just make them mad and very unlikely to buy your product once they discover the deception.

3)    Make sure you are delivering content that is educational and valuable. The world is saturated with junk content that serves no other purpose than to take up space. By creating an advertorial that is a compelling read and teaches your reader something new, you are more likely to satisfy their urge for quality content, thus making it more likely they will act on your offer.

There will likely always be debate among content creators over the ethics of advertorials, with journalists and marketers predictably falling on different sides of the coin. But the one thing that both sides should be able to agree on is that being open and transparent in your content creation is essential to staying within ethical boundaries and will ensure that you do not deceive your reader.

 FULL DISCLOSURE: I have an educational and professional background in journalism, in addition to my current work with Marketing Breakthroughs Inc. and, as such, I may have differing views on advertorial ethics than others.