BusinessWeek Blurs Line Between ...


The concept of advertorials is not new.

I’m sure if the early publishers of the Bible accepted advertising, we would have seen pitches for flint stones packaged as psalms.

Fast-forwarding to today, it stands to reason that the never-ending economic pressures on publishers causes them to wade further into the gray area in exchange for revenue.

Still, the November 22-28 Bloomberg BusinessWeek issue crosses the line in my view.

Take a look at the full-page ad from the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) – conceivable that the government agency, Ministry of Economic Affairs of Taiwan, threw in a few dollars – that appeared in BusinessWeek.

Top Taiwan Advertising

For a larger view, click here.

Yes, I can see the word “Advertisement” in 18-point type at the top of the page.

But why would you allow an advertiser to mimic the editorial package of the annual Interbrand study with its very own Interbrand study? More to the point, why would you allow an advertiser to take a shot at deceiving the readership that the content comes from BusinessWeek journalists?

Perhaps BusinessWeek figured designing the lines justified left and right instead of BusinessWeek’s customary ragged right would keep the reader from straying into delusions of journalism. By the way, I wonder if BW forced TAITRA to set its own type. Those word gaps are unsightly indeed.

To the credit – or discredit depending on your point of view – TAITRA crafts sophisticated copy using the quotes from Julian Barrans, MD of Interbrand Singapore, to make subjective claims like:

Such encouraging progress clearly indicates that Taiwan’s top brands are now becoming real challenges on the world stage.

Ironically, TAITRA presents the Interbrand study in a more journalistically true state on its website:

Note TAITRA doesn’t include the companies’ logos or the puff company descriptions.

Back to the big picture –

Great business storytelling should be both authentic and transparent.

I have nothing against storytelling in ads.

Heck, some of my best friends are ad copywriters.

And I’ve made the point in a previous post that advertising gets the power of narrative more than other forms of communications, including PR.

But I also think media properties should make it easy for the reader to understand if information comes from a journalist, a third party or a paid source.

This is getting tougher to discern, particularly online.

What do you think?

Much ado about nada?

Would welcome hearing your perspectives.


  • James

    I agree…I think people forget that we love to buy…you don’t have to hide promotion and branding…just make it interesting….one of the best storyteller ad copywriters was Joseph Sugerman….his stories made products so interesting that he didn’t need to hide the fact that it was an ad….in other words, I agree you have to be upfront about your intentions otherwise the reader figures out halfway through and then gets annoyed….an advertorial is just a way of trying to use the format of the newspaper to make readers think it is interesting….a better strategy is to actually say something interesting.

  • Lou Hoffman

    I particularly like your closing point–

    “… a better strategy is to actually say something interesting.”

    Which brings us back to storytelling techniques.

  • all about computers

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a
    lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that,
    this is great blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.


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