Advertorial or editorial – When is an editorial feature advertising?

Determining what is an advertisement and what is an editorial can sometimes be difficult, particularly when advertorial is used. Advertorial is generally an advertisement.

Some people believe advertorial is a recent phenomenon but this is not so. Arguably, the doyen of advertorial was Aunt Daisy in the 1940’s and 50’s with her popular morning radio program.

To assist the Advertising Standards Complaints Board with defining the difference between advertorial and advertising, Board Members Terry Snow and Don Churchill wrote a paper that was referred to the ASA. The recommendations have been accepted by the ASA. These recommendations along with preliminary comments are set out below and are applied by the ASCB.

Defining Advertorial and Editorial

Advertorial and editorial tests

  1. Media businesses depend wholly or in part on advertising revenue for publication – publications or programs where the consumers are attracted by the content will attract advertisers. But that is different from features or programs needing to depend for their very creation directly on related advertising revenue support. Advertorial by definition adopts an editorial format, but tests could be applied to check whether it is in fact editorial or advertorial.

Editorial test

  1. What are the readers, viewers, listeners in it for?
    1. Accurate information, even in magazine feature-like presentations about subjects such as a bank’s services, a holiday in Fiji or home heating, for example.
    2. The full story, which should include a value check or independent critical assessment of the information, either from the journalist or an impartial authority. Readers are not intended to get this in an advertising feature.
  1. The editorial test is: Does a feature or program come under No 2? It most probably will if it is independently generated by the newspaper/television broadcaster without reference to the advertiser.
  1. The corollary to No 2 is that the advertiser pays to ensure there is no critical view in the presentation, which runs counter to the advertising aims. Therefore, the advertiser has oversight of the copy, final approval or some measure of control to ensure the words and images are tied in to the advertising purpose.
  1. If a feature, program, broadcast etc does not come under No 2 (eg an advertorial hour for one company’s health products on radio) then it fails the editorial test, and should fall within the parameters for advertorial or advertising, and the Codes applying to them.

The importance of context

  1. The publishing, broadcasting or screening context will determine to an extent whether an editorial-looking presentation is at first glance independent editorial generated by the media operation, or advertorial presented on behalf of an advertiser.
  1. If an editorial feature is driven by advertising considerations — eg a special supplement or advertorial page created by the advertising department and under the control of the advertiser in a newspaper or magazine or on television/radio or on a website — and a complaint is lodged against it, then that complaint should fall under the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board. The feature, under the provision of Truthful Presentation, should be labelled as having an advertising purpose. In this case, the advertising is the principal objective. The editorial feature is part of an advertising framework.
  2. If an editorial feature is part of an editorially designated section in a newspaper, magazine or on television/radio or on a website eg a regular travel section, even if it is surrounded by generic (travel) advertising, and there is a complaint against the feature, then that is for the jurisdiction of the Press Council or the broadcaster and possibly then the Broadcasting Standards Authority. In this case, the editorial presentation is the principal objective. The advertising is simply part of an editorial framework.

Advertorial test

  1. The public is entitled to know when it is reading, listening to or viewing advertorial because it will regard differently information generated by an advertiser in its own favour and which comes under the Advertising Codes of Practice, and information generated by the media in its own right which can be expected to have a quality of independence but needs to meet the tests of the industry’s Code of Broadcasting Practice.
  2. To check if an editorial feature, whether in print, broadcast or electronic media, is in fact advertorial, the following tests could be applied in this order:

Test 1

  1. Is it part of an editorial framework or advertising framework?
    If it is clearly part of an advertising framework, whatever editorial format it is in, then a complaint against it should go to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board, where the Advertising Codes will apply.

Test 2

  1. Is it independent of control in any measure by the advertiser?
    If it is not, then any complaint against it will go to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board as advertising.

Test 3

  1. Is there any financial consideration affecting the editorial or which has caused the appearance of the editorial?
    If any financial consideration has been exchanged so that the advertiser has created the occasion for the editorial, or bought the right to any measure of oversight over the editorial, then any complaint against this kind of presentation should fall within the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board.

Test 4

  1. Is the presentation labelled or clearly designated as an advertorial, advertising feature, promotion or supplement, or in some way described as being for the commercial promotion of an advertiser’s services or products?
    If the labelling is evident, then any complaint against such a presentation should fall under the Advertising Codes of Practice and the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Complaints Board.
  2. If the feature, program, presentation etc meets the criteria of Tests 1-3 but fails Test 4, it is still clearly advertising and fails to meet the appropriate provision of the Advertising Code of Ethics relating to Identification and Truthful Presentation.
  3. By having clear tests which put labelling as the last measure of whether a presentation is editorial or advertorial, the Advertising Standards Complaints Board should have several ways of measuring advertorials.

Extract from a paper prepared by Terry Snow and Don Churchill
Print media representatives, Advertising Standards Complaints Board