Long gone are the days when advertising was obvious, with clever slogans scrawled across billboards, catchy jingles seeping through the radio, and increasingly elaborate narratives between TV shows. In a world saturated with the above, advertising agencies were always going to have to step up their game to push their products in a much more subtle, and natural way.
Thus, the advertorial was born…
Originally taking up the pages in glossy magazines, the advertorial was a way of advertising a product in an ‘editorial’ fashion – that is by talking about it in the context of an interesting article. For example, Cosmopolitan magazine has, in the past run advertorials around “Getting your legs summer ready”, which was really pushing a particular hair-removal product. Clever stuff, right?
The beauty of advertorials is that they sit seamlessly within the usual content. However, the Advertising Standards Agency (or ASA), has strict guidelines when it comes to advertising, and insists that it is made clear to the reader that it is paid-for content.
Tut Tut Buzzfeed
BuzzFeed, having such a huge readership, often feature advertorials on their site. However, the ASA recently pulled up the web giant in regards to an advertorial called ‘14 Laundry Fails We’ve All Experienced’, which was promoting a Dylon Colour Catcher product. Although the piece did mention being a “Dylon Brand Publisher”, the ASA ruled that it was not “immediately clear” in all instances that it was a paid-for advertorial and that consumers would not necessarily understand that this was the case.
A large proportion of BuzzFeed’s income allegedly comes from these sponsored posts,and it seems that part of the website’s appeal is the lack of annoying flashing banner ads that plague other viral news and article sites.
Yet, despite being seasoned professionals at the native advertising, they seem to spend a lot of time bending the rules and getting a slap on the wrist from the ASA.
Not the First Time
For example, back in 2013, Reddit users protested at a Samsung advertorial, featuring amazing photos that had been used without crediting the users. Using someone else’s pictures as part of a BuzzFeed Community article is a big enough bone of contention, but knowing that BuzzFeed would be making a healthy sum of money from this led to outrage. BuzzFeed did remove the post and apologise but it left a sour taste in many mouths.
The main deception with advertorials is when they are viewed on a mobile platform, visited from a Twitter or Facebook link. In this instance, a lot of the (sometimes dubious) labelling is lost and therefore it is not always clear whether the article is an advertorial or just a really boring piece of content.
Probably the worst part about these native advertisements is that they are just not very good. They are mostly too try-hard, with brands attempting to be “down with the kids” by smattering gifs and relatable phrases in between “subtle” mentions of their product.
Love them or hate them, they are here to stay. So it’s important that they are labelled correctly and clear to a consumer. I want to know that someone is mentioning a product because they genuinely love it. That they’re gaining nothing from pushing it than the happiness of introducing others to something you enjoy. Of course, if something is only being pushed (or at least partially) due to money exchanging hands, that’s just fine, but it needs to be made clear – thankfully the ASA are willing to pull companies up on that. Sorry BuzzFeed.