Advertorial: Short summary
The term advertorial is a composite word formed from the English words “advertisement” and “editorial.” It is therefore a mixture of advertising content plus an editorial contribution. The great advantage of this type of marketing measure is that the reader often fails to recognize the content as advertising and thus judges it to be as credible as similar editorial content. When put to proper use, an advertorial can help to make the featured company an expert or opinion leader on a particular topic. However, the merging of editorial and advertising content can also lead to problems – not least due to the legal provisions governing journalism.
When preparing advertising and similar marketing measures, advertisers are often faced with a fundamental problem: potential customers do not regard the content as particularly credible. This is hardly surprising given that advertising serves to present the featured products in the most favorable light possible in order to increase the interest and appeal they will have for potential buyers. However, the ever-increasing digitalization of society has led to a development which has resulted in a whole new form of advertising: the advertorial.
Many print publishers had been struggling with falling sales figures since the 1990s. As a new, fast and continuously updatable format, the internet has continued to undermine and displace the editorial role of more and more classic newspapers and magazines. In the search for new sources of income, some publishers came up with the idea of selling advertising space as an addition to certain editorial contributions. The advertising would be very similar to the contributions, thus making it difficult for the reader to tell what was editorial content and what was purely marketing.
This concept has been particularly successful in the USA, where the requirements for the separation of editorial and advertising content are a little bit looser than other countries.
The great advantage of advertorials is that they are usually very serious, which naturally benefits the credibility of the content. However, advertorials need not necessarily be an attempt to “deceive” the reader, as is often claimed. An editorial contribution can often be made to serve advertising and marketing purposes, without ever being one-sided or containing incorrect information. If a company presents one of its products in an advertorial, and highlights the advantages of the product by using supporting data from a study, then it is in a good position to convince readers. However, there is also the other extreme – where advertorials are cleverly disguised as editorial content and try to give the impression that the topic of the article is treated objectively. The boundaries between legitimate advertising and such attempts to deceive are often very fluid, which is why advertorials are fairly controversial.
The legal situation
On social media an advertorial must include a label such as “Advertisement,” “Sponsored Post” or “Sponsored Link” to clarify its purpose.
Though that appears quite simple, the design of the advertorial and its accompanying label is not specified, so it’s not really that straightforward. It is therefore quite possible to shift an advert covering a large area so that its “Sponsored Post” label, or similar, is only very small and appears at the margin. In addition, the color scheme, the layout of the text and images, and much more can be used to distract attention from any label stating that the advertorial is not an editorial contribution.
The distinction between editorial and marketing content can often be even more problematic with digital media such as the internet. For instance, how should one assess an editorial guest contribution which contains a link to an affiliate partner’s shop at the end? The link itself certainly has an advertising flavor, but the same may not necessarily apply to the rest of the content. An evaluation of blog articles can sometimes be equally difficult – is it neutral information or primarily blog marketing? In addition, backlinks within website content raise the question of whether, and to what extent, they serve marketing purposes, and thus whether a contribution can then be judged to be editorial. However, there are no fixed rules here – so this assessment must always be carried out case by case.
Advertorials in online marketing
As already indicated, advertorials used in online marketing can be a very effective tool. Online, the borderline between neutral, editorial and advertising content is flexible, so an advertorial is a very effective way to build up a brand or a product. Since readers are generally more willing to consider the information within an advertorial as credible, they internalize the content and connect those desirable characteristics with that brand or product to a far greater extent than they would be inclined to do when viewing rival advertising.
In addition, advertorials can be used as part of guerrilla marketing. Here, the advertorial places a topic in the public focus, and it is then picked up by other media. However, additional marketing measures should also be used to support the concept because it is difficult to influence public perception solely through advertorials – even if they are frequently switched around to disguise their origins.
While advertorials in print media and on the internet often at least occupy a legal grey area, the situation with social media is much more clear cut. Social networks are ultimately concerned with representing their own views and opinions – neutral and objective reporting is a secondary concern. Nevertheless, many people use social media as their primary source of information, which makes Facebook et al. the perfect place for advertorials.
A clearly biased, sales-focused guest contribution on a “normal” message page would undoubtedly be a problem. If, on the other hand, the article appears on the Facebook page of a well-known blogger, this would be much less of an issue. After all, no one expects him to provide exclusively neutral and objective content. Of course, there are limits here – a blogger would not even allow false or obviously exaggerated information to appear on his social media page. However, unlike a normal website, opinions and advertising articles are quite common on Facebook.
Properly used, advertorials can be a very effective marketing tool. Advertorials can often have a significant impact – especially on the internet, where the distinction between neutral, editorial and advertising content is often difficult to judge. However, this also means that this form of marketing should be used with caution. On the one hand, advertorials can lead to legal problems with some unpleasant consequences; whilst on the other hand, the issue of moral acceptability remains. After all, the purpose of advertising and marketing should be to convince potential buyers about the merits of a product or brand. It should not be about deceiving or lying to your customers.
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