In print newspapers and magazines, we have what we call advertorials. They look and read like news articles but in fact, they are sponsored content. In other words, someone paid to put the story into the newspaper, just like an advertisement, but it is presented in the form of an article.
The one on the screen is a scanned image of one such advertorial published in the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. And here’s the media company’s rate card which shows how much you need to pay to place an advertorial.
When you Google “advertorial examples,” you can easily find many examples of this practice.
If you look closer, the advertorials are often given labels like a “special report” and a “sponsored feature” but if you don’t pay attention, you can easily miss that disclosure.
On the web, similar articles and videos are sometimes called native advertising. The idea is the same. Some sponsored information is placed and shown as part of the news website content even though they are there because someone paid for it. In this example on the screen, IBM placed this native ad on the Atlantic.
I should note that they are different from the press releases. Press releases have their own problems, as we have discussed earlier, but they are given to the news media with little strings attached.
Journalists are essentially free to decide what to do with them. But advertorials and native ads are paid content and they don’t go through the kind of editorial process that normal news stories go through. They are advertisements disguised as editorial content.
What the concept of information neighborhoods and the blurred lines among each neighborhood tells us is that when we get news, we must ask ourselves which neighborhood the story belongs to. It is not an easy task because the boundaries are not clear cut.
Nonetheless, this is an important first step to be critical towards the information because we are now questioning the motives and methodologies behind the news stories.
Have students find an example of native advertising or advertorial. Have them discuss what potentially important information could be missing in the promotional content.
Important note: Unfortunately, in many countries in Asia, advertorials and native ads are often not labeled (or regulated). Students need to make a guess and give reasons why they think the story is a sponsored content.
Example: An article titled “Tasty recipes for diabetics” published by Malaysia’s New Straits Times. Students could say or write something like:
“This article introduces recipes that are ‘nutritious’ and ‘healthy’ for people with diabetes. But each recipe includes this ingredient called Glucerna powder and at the end of the article, it mentions the 12-week Glucerna Challenge Me program with its website address and telephone number.
I originally thought it’s great to have an article like this because it would help diabetic patients but now I am not sure if this is really good information. It may not contain lies but I would be skeptical about its effectiveness especially because there could be other diet and recipes doctors would recommend.”
- Sponsored content resembles news reports, but it lacks independence.
- No matter how informative these articles may be, their goal is to promote a product, person, or service.
- With sponsored content, we will only get the positive side of the story. The information may be correct, but it will be incomplete. We won’t have the full picture.
Following videos also talk about native advertising.