ad·ver·to·ri·al n.

A newspaper or magazine advertisement giving information about a product in the style of an editorial or objective journalistic article.

I was inspired to to start this thread by another recently-created thread: "Goals are for losers".

I read the linked 'article' and I was going to craft a response (the gist of it would have been that I think Scott Adams is a hack, 'Dilbert' is terrible, and that the premise of his 'article'—to aim for the lowest common denominator, throw that crap at a wall and see if it sticks rather than writing from the heart and creating something more meaningful and inspired—is an extremely cynical approach to... life altogether, really) but what really stuck with me was that this wasn't an article at all: it's an advertorial. The product is his new book, which goes on sale on Oct. 22. I couldn't write a cogent response to the piece without it devolving into "this is merely an ad for Scott Adams's new book, so I find it difficult to take seriously".

Not that I'm surprised by The Wall Street Journal printing an advertorial from someone who I will concede is a well-known author, even if I think his oeuvre is schlock. Advertorials are nothing new; they've existed since at least the late nineteenth century. But I have noticed in the last few years that content, in print media especially, is quickly transitioning away from hard editorials and reviews and into what is called "native advertising".

Native advertising is a bit of a nebulous term. It can take on many forms. Sometimes it's produced by the company that wants their product advertised, sometimes it's in the form of "consumer reviews", and sometimes the advertisers will go as far as to hire the staff of the publication they want to advertise in to craft an article on their behalf and disguise it as an editorial in much the same way as an advertorial. The latter way of going about it seems particularly insidious because by using the publication's own staff and giving them credit for it it makes it seem as though the content is independently, arbitrarily created and without any ulterior (financial) motive. It's disguising ad copy as "real content".

I understand and sympathize with the publishers of newspapers and magazines, because I understand that their readership is dwindling and their advertising revenue is shrinking at an alarming rate and they have to try to get whatever revenue they can to survive. At the same time I think they're losing readers precisely because they're embracing these "native advertising" revenue streams. As they continue to shed what I'd call real journalism in favour of the sort of fluffy ad copy that you get when somebody asks you to write a bogus article that has the sole purpose of selling stuff it gives me, as a reader, less incentive to buy the publication in the first place.

I had this conversation about the alienation of the reader with my grandfather over the weekend (it's Thanksgiving here, so we had a little dinner at my grandparents' house). We were talking about sports and none of us could remember how many wins a particular football team had, so I grabbed the discarded copy of the newspaper out of their recycling bin and looked it up. I brought the entertainment section and the 'news' sections too, but that was less than half of the newspaper overall. I threw the other sections back in the bin: 'Travel', 'New Homes', 'New Condos', 'Lifestyle', etc. After we had finished the discussion about football and conversation among the family drifted off to something else I sat in the corner and read the rest of the paper. After I finished Grandpa asked me "Do you read the Herald?"

"Nope," I said. "I don't because more than half of the paper is ads, and most of the rest I can read online for free. 90% of their news is reprinted from the wire services anyway, and I don't care for the local editorials." Grandpa conceded I was probably right but he's of a generation where he prefers the paper medium instead of turning on his computer.

That's not to say that native advertising is less prevalent online. I'm sure it's actually much more prevalent, but there's still more 'real' content to be had even if I have to sift through mounds of "other content I might be interested in" to get it.

What do you think of native advertising? Do you even notice it? Do you care?

(If the mods think this belongs somewhere else they can feel free to move it.)