Advertorial Age

When I was asked to write for MediaPost, I was given only one instruction: "don't make the column too self-serving."

Which immediately confused me. Why wouldn't MediaPost readers want me to use the column to peddle my goods and services? Did the subscribers to this newsletter want content that was untouched by agenda and unmotivated by personal gain? As the publisher of a media company that consistently receives requests from advertisers for "content integration," I thought this sort of thing was highly in fashion in the media world these days. Am I to conclude that these advertisers are wrong in their approach when they push publishers to open up their editorial to them? Well, suspending the sarcasm for just a second, let me answer that question with an emphatic "yes."

I'm sympathetic, of course, when approached to run content about an advertiser's product. I know there is a lot of media noise out there and that media planners and copy writers have challenging jobs trying to break through it all on behalf of their clients. And to that end, it's become apparent that the idea of integrating their ad message within content has become a holy grail for many ad buyers. I'm not talking about PR here, I'm talking about having editorial promoting an advertiser, in that sweet unholy union called an "advertorial."



And here's my point: please leave the content alone. Let it be what it is intended to be and what the reader wants it to be. It kills the entire spirit of the thing to interfere, and I think it usually has the opposite effect for advertiser and publisher alike. Readers can be very smart and perceptive; they know, or can sense, when things are getting mixed up. I have seen the angry reader mail to many different publishers that proves this point.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a complete purist here. I love a good cocktail of sponsorships, skyscrapers, box ads, and all the rest, to help grow our business. I understand the economic pressures of running a media company, and I know both parties often need to come up with creative ways to work together. I realize that despite some great progress in setting industry standards for online advertising, we still live in a world where every RFP asks to do something that's never been done before. So building creative relationships with ad partners has become one of the most important jobs on the business side of publishing.

I think the key challenge is working together to give readers something of value--something extra, that makes readers feel good about the advertiser for being a part of it. Something very different than getting in the way of the content that readers came for in the first place. Again, I urge restraint. This is, of course, especially encouraged for advertisers and publishers who are trying to build a brand, as opposed to those selling hidden spy cameras, or helping someone punch a monkey within an ad banner.

And let me be clear. I'm only talking about "advertorial" here. I have absolutely no problem with "advertising."

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