Advertisement or Endorsement?Posted: February 6, 2013
An advertorial is an advertisement in editorial form and, thus, is sponsored content. While this specific form of promotion is not new, the subject of the advertisement is extremely contentious and provocative to the mainstream public. Scientology has had its fair share of controversies in the past, ranging from creator L. Ron Hubbard’s suspicious financial intentions to the organization’s known association with high profile celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The ad in question was praising the organization’s accomplishments in 2012.
Although the Atlantic issued an apology, the issue is whether the apology or removal of the ad were even warranted. The Atlantic is a respected magazine dating back to the 19th century and has even been commended for its successful transition to online content. In the age of digital journalism, publications and news organizations must raise their profits to meet viewers’ growing demand for fast and free content. When nearly all online content is offered free of charge, the Atlantic must make money somehow. Sponsored content proves more effective in catching the reader’s eye than the ignored banner ad next to an article. The magazine had every right to run the ad as it is not endorsing Scientology. However, readers most likely mistook the ad for editorial content due to its misleading appearance. It failed to ensure its readers understood the article as sponsored content and that it was not a direct reflection of the publication. For these reasons, the Atlantic received much criticism.
How can media outlets and publications meet the demand of its audience and still earn profits? Are there standards to what forms of promotion and marketing are suitable in digital journalism? With the use of an advertorial, how does a news organization guarantee its audience understands the difference between an advertisement and an endorsement?