Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Online Advertorial

As more and more offline methods of marketing transition to an online format, it brings some of the same and new ethical issues for some tactics. One of these controversial media tactics is the online advertorial. As Lesson 9 states “An Advertorial is an ad designed to deliver the experience of reading an article. The use of advertorials is a somewhat troubling trend, especially because it seems that advertorial content is increasingly being designed to make readers think that the content isn’t paid for and, thus, has the value of real news coverage” (Lesson 9, IMC 619).

Spizziri gives a good example of an online advertorial that is not ethical when she states “A good example of advertorial is the Feature by Sony campaign launched a few years ago. It consisted of articles written by freelancers who presented themselves as average citizens writing about how they used technology. The articles were commissioned and paid for by Sony. They often didn't even mention Sony except in sidebars, which made them especially hard to distinguish from normal site content. But what really drew criticism was that the labeling to distinguish the articles as advertising was often in very small type, and sometimes the word "advertising" was not even used” (Spizziri).

This situation poses a few interesting questions for marketers:

1. Regardless of ethics are online advertorials an effective marketing communication tool?

I would say it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I believe advertorials are a good form of marketing communication to help educate customers on complex issues in order to help them make a purchase decision or to open the customer’s eyes to a new industry or new use of an existing product. They also help position a brand as a resource in the mind of the customer.

2. Should online advertorials be labeled as paid media?

Yes, it’s important to label the advertorial as a paid form of communication just as a traditional advertorial would be labeled as a paid advertisement. Just because the advertorial is online doesn’t mean that it should have any less disclosures affiliated with it. As Lesson 9 indicates by using paid advertising labels, a third party disclaimer and utilizing different fonts this will help clearly differentiate the advertorial. I think online advertorials should also pop up in a separate window for further separation from the main content of a site.

3. Are online advertorials more effective than traditional advertorials in print?

This I’m not sure about and I struggled to find any research on the topic however online advertorials do have a longer shelf life in terms of being able to be searched for and re-read numerous times after the initial launch. I would expect that more marketers will begin to utilize the online advertorial more than a traditional advertorial. Also look out for online advertorials to start blurring the line with online infomercials.

- Patrick


Lesson 9. IMC 619. (2008). West Virginia University.

Spizziri, Martha. Retrieved on December 17, 2008 from

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