Adver what?

12 07 2011

I spent the first 15 years of my career as a newspaper woman. In those days, the newsroom and the ad department were separated by this invisible — yet very noticeable — line in an effort to keep the two departments separated. After all, news is news. Ads are ads. The two should never be combined, right?

Then came the advertorial, a cross between editorial content and an advertisement. Some really look like news copy.

Did you happen to catch the word “advertisement” at the top? Makers of health-related products also use advertorials frequently.

Many folks tout the value of advertorials, saying they’re more effective because they don’t contain the puffery that often is in ads, and they’re presented as more of an educational tool.

Several people offer suggestions on how to make advertorials more effective, which include writing a good headline, having a strong opening paragraph, crafting compelling copy, using a byline, adding photos and captions, sprinkling with quotes, and opening and closing with a bang.

 I’m not the only one who feels squeamish about advertorials. T.L. Caswell, a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, last year criticized the paper for running a four-page advertorial in its paper.

This confluence of news and advertisement is also prevalent online, where they’re not always labeled as an ad but some other euphemism like InfoSites.  What makes online advertorials even more disturbing, according to Christopher Ma, executive editor and senior vice president of the WashingtonPost.com, is how quickly a consumer can click from a news site to a ad-sponsored site, making it difficult to know which content is and isn’t an advertisement.   

What do you think? Are advertorials ethical even though they tend to deliberately look like editorial content? Were there any advertorials you thought were news? Tell me. I really want to know.

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2 responses

15 07 2011
Paul Z

Honestly, I think I’ve always shared your disdain for advertorials–they inherently seem like a trick. I think the only ones I’ve ever gotten sucked into are ones in photography magazines (why that genre, I’m not sure, except perhaps the layout of the magazine is easy to copy?). The challenge with advertorials, and particularly ones targeted at a younger crowd, is the question of authenticity. You mention puffery, and advertorial seeming lack of it, but today’s consumers are always looking for the angle, and the more “legit” they appear, the less they pass the smell test. Frankly, give me an ad that looks like an ad, and I think we’re both on more comfortable ground.

15 07 2011
Pat

Paul,
Consumers today are so used to getting bombarded with messages – thousands each day — that they’ve become pretty adept at sniffing out and discarding the suspicious ones.

I know the world is much more complicated in many ways, but I, too, was more comfortable when an ad looked liked an ad.

Thanks for stopping by,
Pat

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