Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who Wrote It?

Diana Taggart

This week our ethics class readings discussed yet another new-to-me topic: advertorials – advertisements disguised as editorial content in print and electronic media.

 Defining terms is the first step in any discussion, so I did an Internet search on “content marketing vs. native advertising.” One of the links the search brought up was appropriately titled, “Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising.” This blog article by Michael Gerard, the CMO of Curata, listed three key differences between the two: purpose, tone, and benefits. 

Purpose differences are that native advertising’s main thrust is to sell a product while content marketing’s goal is to build trust with the potential customer over a long term relationship.

 Tone is pretty clear in that native advertising can be pushy in pushing the product they are selling while content marketing’s tone is usually knowledgeable and authentic. 

And in benefits the blog says that readers can “smell a sales pitch a mile away.” In “Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising,” it says under the heading of Benefits, “Content marketing done well builds trust with readers, helps create shareable content for blogs, social media feeds, email lists, and avoids some of the potential legal issues associated with native advertising because it doesn’t try to mislead.” (emphasis mine).

Another truly excellent article was on our reading list and came from the American Society of Magazine Editors. It was titled, “ASME Releases Tighter Guidelines on Magazines’ Native Advertising.” 

In this article by Michael Sebastian (pictured below) he tells us that the ASME urges the idea that native ads should use different fonts and graphics than those of the other, regular articles in the magazine, blog, tweet, or wherever it’s being published. That will distinguish the ad from real content. 

The article states that it has no legal power to enforce the guidelines the organization recommends but can bring peer pressure to bear on publications by excluding them from consideration for prestigious awards if they do not conform to those guidelines.

Michael Sebastian
Photo from
Transparency and attribution were the two points mentioned most often in our readings about native advertising. It is crucial that we not try to trick our audience into thinking that what they are reading is an editorial piece on the subject.

 It is hard enough to swallow advertising on a 24-7 basis without having it snuck into our consciousness as ‘news’ that we are reading. And I personally believe the transparency needs to be in a prominent position at the TOP of the piece and then reiterated at the bottom.

 I am far more open to reading an advertorial if I know up front that that is what it is and if it gives me information I can use right now without first having to go out and purchase the product. I truly think that one reason the general public distrusts advertisers is the dishonesty inherent in getting someone to buy something they don’t want or need. The job of the advertiser is to create a need where none exists, or to point out to potential customers the need of which they are unaware. 

The trickery used by “snake oil” salesmen through the ages and by unscrupulous admen (and women) has left a bad taste in the public’s mouth and it is up to honest, ethical journalists, editors, and publishers to make sure that we do not become a member of that particular society by emulating their tactics. 

A well-written infomercial which does not try to force the customer into buying immediately can go a long way toward diffusing a potentially confrontational situation. So saying, following the ASME guidelines for using different fonts and different graphics when publishing native advertising or content marketing (chose your term) can keep the majority of our readers coming back for more. And isn’t that our job?

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