Advertorials: Are They Ethical?

By Catie Kelly, account coordinator

The media relations landscape is constantly changing and providing new approaches for businesses to deliver content. Although advertorials, or native ads, are not new, they have experienced a major shift with online publications. This means that we are seeing advertorials popping up on favored sites more often. The strategy is clearly growing in popularity among marketers, but is it actually ethical?

An advertorial, or native ad, is paid content that has been disguised to look like an everyday article. They are often used when reporters won’t cover an announcement as news because it is either not the right fit or too much of an advertisement to fit the news category. This is also a creative tactic aiming to shake up typical overdone advertisements. However, sometimes the line can be blurred for readers on what is actually editorial content, which is what leads us to the argument on ethics.

Gaining the trust of stakeholders is a delicate balance and companies should be wary of deceiving them. Advertorials have often been labeled as deceitful because of the layout of content. Most readers are not fully aware of advertorials and cannot differentiate between paid and earned media. A sneaky advertorial risks backfiring on both the company and the publication. It is crucial that a company placing one of these article look-a-likes makes it very clear that it is an advertisement or promoted material. Even then, small font size and sly placement can make a company appear underhanded.

Speak to the media outlet ahead of time about the layout of your advertorial. Determine where it will be listed on the site. Once you know those details, place a notice accordingly that the content is paid. If possible, it is a good idea to list the author as the name of the company, along with the company logo. At the end, provide a clear call to action.

The content of a good advertorial should not be overly salesy. In fact, the content may not even have anything to do with your call to action. For example, liquor brand, Captain Morgan has rolled out several advertorials on BuzzFeed’s website. One of which listed out “15 things you didn’t know about 15 captains, commanders, and conquerors.” Clearly that has nothing to do with liquor but it plays off the company’s name and peaks the reader’s interest.

Ultimately, the answer to the question “are advertorials ethical?” is both yes and no. The gray area is the company’s intentions. If they are aiming for it to look like earned editorial content to trick the readers then they are not being ethical. However, it is ethical reasoning if the company is using the advertorial as a creative way to reach a new audience while making it obvious that it is paid media content.