By Simon Fraser, Creative Director at OgilvyOne Business


So, we can’t believe the news any more. Apparently, journalists are just making it up to sell more papers and get more clicks. Fair enough. I consider myself warned.

Advertising, on the other hand, has always been viewed with suspicion. For all its bewitching words and aspirational imagery, it’s just trying to make you buy more bleach, yoghurt or life insurance. However, most ads look like ads, so you can be on your guard.

But what about that strange creature, the advertorial? Now that we approach the news with eyes narrowed, what’s the point of ads donning editorial clothing in an attempt to make you believe that what you’re reading is objective?

I ask because I’ve just received the latest copy of a glossy magazine that drops through my letterbox every month. I don’t ask for it, it just arrives, addressed to The Householder.

It’s full of articles about things like bespoke kitchens and barn-style garages, health spas and, I kid you not, divorce solicitors. Presumably these are the products and services needed by the affluent these days. At the end of each article, there’s a little box containing the contact details of the company referred to in the preceding prose. And somewhere in the magazine, there’ll be an ad for said company. The business model is simple – you buy an ad in our magazine and we’ll get a writer to pen 500 words saying how marvellous you are. They even “review” restaurants and hotels (I’ve noted that the editor tends to award himself the onerous task of staying at the posher hotels, invariably accompanied by his wife) but the reviews are always gushing and comprehensively positive. I know you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you, but to my mind there’s no value in such writing. The advertiser will no doubt read about himself with a satisfied smile and lovingly stroke his pretty, pretty ad, but what’s The Householder supposed to make of it all?

So, my question is this: what’s the point of the advertorial format when audiences no longer trust the impartiality of the editorial within which it hides?

Could it be that it gives agencies and clients an opportunity to include an amount of information that simply won’t fit into a traditional ad? As we know, B2B marketers have a habit of trying to cram as many features as they can into every communication – and if they can all be fitted into the headline, so much the better. As a writer, I prefer to be more selective. One thing at a time, please.

Or maybe it’s because the advertorial is effectively a funnel on steroids. Rather than let the consumer make their way down the traditional funnel from awareness to sale at their own pace, nudged occasionally by timely and appropriate content, the advertorial attempts to do it all in one hit. Hook them in with the headline and hope that, by the time they’ve finished the copy 800 words later, they’re ready to buy.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but my instinct tells me that secreting fake views within fake news isn’t a sound strategy.