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It’s time to take back the word ‘advertorial’


Merriam-Webster defines the term as “an advertisement that imitates editorial format,” and its first-known use was in 1946. It’s a simple explanation for a perfectly constructed term with a long history.

So what happened?

When I joined the Globe Content Studio in March, 2015, one of my first tasks was to learn the difference between custom editorial, branded content, native advertising (download our white paper) and advertorial. Where it got tricky, terminology-wise, was the umbrella phrase ‘sponsor content,’ which at The Globe and Mail refers to both native and advertorial.

During in-house and client meetings, I noticed a reluctance to use the word ‘advertorial.’ It was usually referred to as ‘sponsor content.’ I started to sound like a broken record, constantly asking: “Do you mean native or advertorial?”

I get it. It’s become a dirty word across the industry. For decades, advertorials conjured up visions of poorly written copy, ugly stock photos, terrible headlines and design treatments closer to sales brochures than editorial.

Here’s how we’re taking the word back:

  • Advertorial content on all platforms and in all formats is assigned by our Content Studio, the same team that produces the rest of our commercial content, including custom editorial and native advertising. That team has been tasked with harmonizing writing, photography and headline standards across the board.
  • The Globe’s head newsroom designer scrapped existing advertorial templates and replaced them with a look that’s much closer, stylistically, with editorial while retaining a healthy distinction through labelling and formatting. Our aim is to always be transparent with our audience.
  • We’re starting to use ‘advertorial’ again in meetings and owning it. It’s “an advertisement that imitates editorial format.” If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Sean Stanleigh is the Managing Editor of Globe Content Studio. Follow him on Twitter @seanstanleigh.

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