First it was my magazines. They sported pages of content that looked like an article on the prettiest makeup products for fall. Then I noticed they were all the same brand, and a few font differences made it stand out from the other pages. Turns out it was really an advertisement styled like the magazine to trick readers into noticing before flipping the page. Then sponsored images started showing up in my Instagram feeds, and before I knew it I was reading ads for Royal Caribbean, wondering all the while which one of my gal pals was on a tropical vacation. Then I saw the sponsored “articles” on Slate, which straight up look like an editorial. While these advertorials as they’re now called had done their job – they snagged my attention, where I usually ignore them – I felt duped, annoyed, and (slightly) less likely to buy their products.
And it turns out I’m not the only one who’s annoyed! People tend to distrust sponsored content, and even the site that’s posting it. I expect the content I read to be (mostly) unbiased on my favorite sites, and the whole point of ads is to steer you in the direction of their products. When these impartial posts pose as true journalism, it can mislead consumers into thinking their information is coming from an unbiased source. The word advertisement or commercial clues readers in to the fact that the company selling it is trying to grab their business, but those communities are the ones who are the most interested in blending in, shrugging off labels to make their merchandise more appealing. Even the FTC is in on the debate, wondering how much should be done to protect consumers from being duped. While, frankly, it gets on my nerves, and I’d rather not see it I have to tip my hat to the people that came up with it. In an industry driven by grabbing the most impressions and pageview, they definitely succeeded in making me take a second look.