Content’s Evil Twin: Advertorial

This morning, the Los Angeles Times passed yet another milestone on the road to ruin of what was once a great newspaper. When I opened it to section two (the awkwardly named “LATEXTRA”), I experienced the following sequence of thoughts:

  1. Wow, Universal Studios burned down yesterday.
  2. Hold on, it says “ADVERTISEMENT” above the photo.
  3. Oh, this whole thing is just an ad for Universal Studio’s new King Kong attraction.
  4. Unseemly expletive.

As explained in detail on Charles Apple’s blog, what I mistook for a real newspaper was in fact a four-page advertising wrap. In other words, an advertorial.

Los Angeles Times LATEXTRA Universal Studios advertising wrap

When I was in traditional publishing, I fought to set limits to advertorials, but ultimately had to tolerate them. In my liberated state, though, I can finally say it: Advertorials are evil.

When I say advertorial, I’m not talking about all sponsored content that appears in a publication. Rather, I’m referring to any sponsored content that attempts to deceive the reader, even briefly, into mistaking it for something it’s not.

I’ve talked here before about how publishing and content marketing exist on a continuum, not distinctly separate, but more like siblings. Well, advertorial is like an evil twin, lurking in a vague netherworld between or above or below journalism and content marketing.

Its modus operandi is deception, not transparency. Both publishers and content marketers should disavow it, now and forever.