By Mark Loundy
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
— Matthew 7:15
It looks like editorial — but it's not.
Magazines sell it at premium rates — but it doesn't look like advertising.
Did you ever shoot an editorial assignment and then see it published in a "Special Advertising Section" or alongside an article with an "Advertisement" bug over the top of it?
Ad salespeople call it "advertorial." Advertorial is advertising that is laid-out and formatted to look like editorial content. Despite the "Special Advertising Section" disclaimers and different typefaces, the intent is to deceive readers into thinking that it's a regular part of the publication. It's that potential for deception that makes it so valuable to advertisers. Readers simply don't trust what they perceive as advertising.
Publications like Sports Illustrated run hundreds of pages of such sections every year. Newspapers produce special-interest sections (like the Annual Brides tab) that feature positive "stories" about companies that pay to be in the section. Advertorial is highly profitable.
Major companies like IBM commission slick publications devoted to their products. Although they might resemble editorial magazines, they are just big ads.
Guess what? For freelancers, there ain't no such thing as "advertorial." When you're negotiating or billing a job, make sure your "editorial" assignment is really that. Otherwise, it's plain-old advertising usage and should be billed at the higher ad rate.
Ethics writer Paul Lester could devote a couple of his wonderful columns to discussing the editorial acceptability of advertorial, but I'm all about the biz side here. Les, the ethical ball is in your court.