Blitz Magazine, July 1999
I’m standing in line behind two women; mid-30s, middle-class. One reaches into her bag and retrieves a magazine article. She presents it to her friend and says: “Look at this article on cellulite-reducing cream. It says it works.” We all look at the paper. The word ‘Advertisement’ does not appear, but it is clearly advertorial. The friend replies: ‘It’s not an article. It’s advertising made to look like editorial. You can never believe that stuff.’
Most people know the difference between editorial and advertorial. The ploy works with some consumers but most, when they see the telltale conflicting fonts and absence of by-lines etc., know that the piece was written by the firm’s marketing department or agency. A well-designed ad with some creative juice behind it is much more effective, for the simple reason that advertorial has no credibility. If people know you paid for it, they don’t believe it.
I’m not talking about contract publishing, which is OK because readers know, when they see a show guide or catalogue, that the enclosed editorial is meant to be self-serving. But it disturbs me to see publications which purport to be journalistic in content print glowing pieces about companies which have paid for that editorial, without telling readers that it’s advertising.
Another, similar, practice has lately been growing at an alarming rate. A publication says to a corporate president or marketing director: ‘You give us your client list and we’ll do a feature on you. We’ll approach all of your suppliers and sell advertising around your story. We’ll supply the writer, or you can write the article yourself. Either way, you’ll have editorial control.’
I used to write for a company whose business was based on this practice. The parameters were simple: Say nothing negative or controversial. Speak only to the people on the pre-approved list. Send the article to the client. The client will remove anything objectionable.
There are three reasons why this practice is disturbing. First, the subject sells his supplier list to the publication. Those suppliers are approached by the publication’s sales reps. While the suppliers may not be overtly pressured, they may feel that they’ll insult the client if they don’t advertise. Their marketing budgets are reduced by what it cost to advertise in a vehicle which may be inappropriate for them; they wind up resenting both the client and the publication.
Secondly, publications involved in this practice lower themselves to a decidedly unattractive level. When a magazine or newspaper slaps its logo and journalistic reputation onto editorial which it has sold, it receives a short-term profit and a long-term loss of respect amongst both advertisers and readers.
Finally, today’s savvy readers are not fooled by these artificial ‘articles’. The pieces are not read. The ads are not read. The featured subject loses credibility. The publication loses credibility. People do not read publications which they do not find credible. No readers, no revenue.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom now about the publishing industry. It seems to me that if newspapers and magazines focused on providing readers with useful and accurate information, rather than on generating short-term monetary gain, everybody would be a lot happier.