I’ve railed before against the slippery slope toward unrecognizable advertorial content in newspapers and magazines. This is the latest example, from Saturday’s Vancouver Sun. Which of these pages is advertorial content? Click to see larger versions.
It doesn’t help that I chose a colour page and a black and white page to compare, but the page on the right is advertorial, paid for by (presumably) Penticton Tourism.
I know that times are tough in the media industry, but this feels like a new low in deceiving the reader. The layout of the advertorial page is incredibly similar to that of the editorial page. Yes, there are five columns instead of six, and the byline plus headshot box is laid out a little differently, but those are pretty subtle differences.
The page is labeled “Special Information Feature”, a common bit of a double-speak for advertorial pages. What does that make the rest of the paper, “Normal Information”?
An Unearned Air of Credibility
The added wrinkle for this page is identifying Claire Newell, a trusted public figure as the writer. She’s lending her brand to this particular deception, increasing its unearned air of credibility.
The obvious intent here is to convince the reader that this page is like any other in the newspaper, while providing a modicum of plausible deniability. If they genuinely wanted to disclose that this page was different from the rest of the paper, then they would radically alter the layout and boldly label the page “Advertisement”.
For me, advertorials exist in seriously murky ethical waters. A cynic might point out that advertisers probably get preferential treatment in editorial coverage anyway, but I’d rather not think quite that cynically.
Do you think this kind of advertorial is an acceptable way to do business?