If you recall your ancient history lessons, you will remember the 10-year war waged by the Greeks against the city of Troy. Unable to conquer the city, the Greeks eventually constructed a giant horse, left it on the battlefield and sailed back to Greece - or so the Trojans thought.
Hidden inside the giant horse were 30 Greek soldiers. The Trojans, thinking they had won, brought the horse inside the city walls and began to celebrate. In the middle of the night, the Greek soldiers emerged from the horse and opened the city gates to the entire Greek army. Of course, the Greeks destroyed the city, finally winning the war.
Advertorials are much like Trojan horses. They are advertisements that appear to be "editorial." They are not information presented under the watchful eye of the publication's editorial review staff or abiding by their editorial policies. Instead, advertorials are written by the advertisers with little or no verification of facts by the editorial staff. They are not required to meet the criteria of that publication's editorial policies.
Advertorials are merely advertising in disguise. If readers are not careful (and forewarned), they - like the Trojans - will believe the appearance rather than investigating the content. This is what the advertisers are hoping for; that you will believe what you read based upon the credibility of the publication.
Some publications have policies against advertorials. This is one of them. Articles are judged on the value of the information they present. Outside of direct news about a company (a company pledging support to a chiropractic organization, making a donation to a chiropractic college, sponsoring an educational or research conference, etc.), the only time a company name is mentioned in an article is in the author biography at the end of the article. In short, companies are mentioned in an editorial capacity only when their actions are deemed newsworthy in an objective, nonpromotional sense.
Some publications "bend" the line that separates advertising and editorial by publishing articles specifically about advertisers or their products. This is expected in small "product listings," as these are not considered part of the editorial copy. But this practice reduces the editorial credibility of a publication when it is the focus of feature articles.
A small number of chiropractic publications actually promote advertorials to their advertisers. They have a price list for their advertorials just like regular advertising, although the prices may not be included in their media kit.
The appeal to the advertisers is clearly spelled out by the publication selling the advertorials, as noted in a recent solicitation to advertisers by one chiropractic publication:
Say & Sell More with Advertorials: An advertorial is a print advertisement designed to resemble editorial content. This is an extremely effective way to spotlight products and services when information will sell better than just images.
It may take a bit of work, but you can usually ferret out advertorials. It will usually cover a half-page, full-page or two-page spread. The entire "article" is about the company and/or its product. It will sometimes include references to research that is usually unpublished or self-published. The photograph of the product/service will be next to the advertorial. The "by" will be "by" the company or be missing altogether.
Sadly, this is the level that some chiropractic publications will stoop to in order to sell advertising space. Instead of conquering your city, they allow their advertisers to use advertorials to conquer your thinking, anticipating that your purchasing decisions will be impacted accordingly.
(In DC, where advertorials are strictly prohibited, advertisers sometimes fill their ad space with verbiage, but these are always clearly boxed to indicate that they are an advertisement, not editorial content, and the phrase "This is a paid advertisement" always appears somewhere within the box.)
Integrity is more important than profits. A publication should never trade its editorial integrity for advertising dollars. One can only hope that every publication will recognize this to ensure their respective audiences are able to believe what they read.
Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.