The term advertorial is a portmanteau of the words “advertisement” and “editorial”. It is therefore a mixture of advertising and an editorial article. The great advantage of this marketing measure is that the reader usually does not immediately recognize the content as advertising and considers it to be as credible as editorial content. However, an advertorial – used correctly – can also make the company behind it an expert or opinion leader on a particular topic. However, the merging of editorial and advertising content can also cause problems – not least because of the requirements of press law.
Detailed explanation of Advertorial
When it comes to advertising and other marketing measures, those responsible often face a fundamental problem: potential customers do not consider them and their content credible, or only to a very limited extent. This is hardly surprising, since the purpose of advertising is, after all, to present products in the most favorable light possible so that they appear interesting to potential buyers. However, the ever-increasing digitization of society led to a development that eventually resulted in a completely new form of advertising: the advertorial.
Many print publishers had to struggle with falling sales figures from the 1990s onwards. The Internet, as a new, fast and constantly available source of up-to-date information, was displacing more and more classic newspapers and magazines with their editorial articles. In search of new sources of revenue, some publishers came up with the idea of selling advertising space specifically next to certain editorial articles. The advertising was then to be designed similarly to the articles, so that it was difficult for the reader to tell what was editorial and what was marketing content.
This concept was very successful, especially in the U.S., where the requirements for separating editorial and advertising content are not as strict as in Germany – nevertheless, this marketing approach has also proven successful here.
The great advantage of advertorials is that they usually appear very serious due to their presentation, which naturally benefits the credibility of the content. However, advertorials do not necessarily have to be an attempt to “deceive the reader,” as is often claimed. After all, an editorial article can certainly be promotional and serve marketing purposes without being one-sided or containing false information. If a company presents one of its products in an advertorial, it can show the advantages of the product – ideally supported by data from a study – and thus convince the reader. Nevertheless, there is also the other extreme – advertorials that are disguised, as best they can, as editorial content and are intended to give the impression that the topic of the article is being dealt with in an objective manner. Often, the boundaries between legitimate advertising and an attempt to deceive are also fluid, which is why advertorials are quite controversial.
The legal situation
Regardless of whether it is a digital or print medium, the legal situation regarding advertorials in Germany seems clear at first glance: Both press law and the press code stipulate that editorial content must be clearly separated from advertising. Accordingly, an advertorial must be marked with a reference, for example, “Advertisement,” “Sponsored Post,” or even “Sponsored Link.
However, it is not quite as simple as it looks at first glance, because the design of the advertorial and the reference are not regulated in detail. It is therefore quite possible to place a large-format ad that is only very small and has a “Sponsored Post” or similar in the margin. In addition, it is possible to use the color design, the layout of the text, images and much more to try to distract from the indication that the advertorial is not an editorial contribution.
In digital media such as the Internet, the distinction between editorial and marketing content is often even more difficult. For example, what about an editorial guest article that links to an affiliate partner’s store at the end? The link itself is certainly promotional in nature, but that doesn’t have to apply to the rest of the content. In the case of blogs, it can also be difficult to assess the content – is it neutral information or rather blog marketing? In addition, backlinks in the content of a website raise the question of whether and to what extent they serve marketing purposes and whether a contribution can then still be assessed as editorial. However, there is no fixed rule on this – the evaluation must always be made on the basis of the respective case.
Advertorials in online marketing
As already mentioned, advertorials can be a very effective tool in online marketing. The boundary between neutral, editorial and advertising content is fluid on the Internet, so an advertorial can be used very effectively to promote the development of a brand or product. Since readers are generally more willing to classify the information as credible in the case of an advertorial, they internalize the content and then – in contrast to the competition – associate the desired characteristics with the brand or product.
In addition, advertorials can be used as part of guerrilla marketing. In this case, the advertorial brings a topic to the public’s attention, which is then picked up by other media. However, other marketing measures should be used to support this, because it is difficult to influence public perception solely through advertorials – even if they are run with high frequency.
Advertorials on social media
While advertorials in print media and on the Internet are often at least in a legal gray area, they are much easier to use on social media. After all, social networks are all about expressing one’s own opinions and views – neutral, objective reporting is of secondary importance. Nevertheless, many people use social media as their primary source of information, making Facebook and the like the perfect place for advertorials.
A clearly colored, promotional guest post on a “normal” news site would certainly be a problem. If, on the other hand, the post appears on the Facebook page of a well-known blogger, this is much less problematic. After all, no one expects him to provide exclusively neutral and objective content. Of course, there are limits here as well – even a blogger will not accept false or completely exaggerated information on his social media page. Opinionated and promotional posts, however, are quite common on Facebook – unlike on a normal website.
Advertorials, used correctly, can be a very effective marketing tool. Especially on the Internet, where it is often difficult to distinguish between neutral, editorial and advertising content, advertorials often have a considerable impact. However, this also means that this form of marketing should only be used with caution. On the one hand, advertorials can lead to legal problems with sometimes unpleasant consequences, and on the other hand, there is the question of moral acceptability. After all, advertising and marketing should convince potential buyers of a product or brand – and not lie to customers or deceive them.
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