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Increasing ‘commercial features’ in newspapers – edit-sanctity at risk?

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Increasing ‘commercial features’ in newspapers – edit-sanctity at risk?

Advertorials and ‘commercial content’ are increasingly making their way into newspapers and of late, the line between advertorial and editorial is blurring. Does it indicate that advertisers are losing faith in conventional ads? Do advertorials eat into edit space and credibility? exchange4media seeks to find out…
For record, in a few recent cases in newspapers, advertorials were presented in an interview format and in a normal news format as well. Also, a few newspapers had come up with dedicated commercial feature supplement in some instances.

What advertisers feel
When asked what advertorials in newspapers meant to the advertisers, Ajay Kakar, CMO, Aditya Birla Group, Financial Services, cited an example and said that around 15 years back, they had a brief from a bank to release a typical Chairman's Speech advertisement. They decided to innovate and asked a freelance journalist to re-craft the speech to read as a report, then type set it to match that of the publication. “Next morning, the Chairman called us to share his joy, he had received calls from corporate captains who may have missed the ad, but read this editorial. And having now read the impressive facts and figures, saw the bank in a very different light,” he recalled.
According to Kakar, a common man read the newspaper and treated the editorial as the gospel truth. “The credibility of the editorial is very high for him. On the other hand, advertising is seen as a paid-for medium that will only say what the brand wants me to hear,” he added.
This, however, led to the question whether this was an attempt to cheat readers. Alok Sanwal, Editor, i-Next, believed that today’s reader was intelligent enough to differentiate the content. “If different fonts are being used for these advertorials and it is clearly highlighted that it is an advertorial, then the sacrosanct level of the article gets maintained,” he remarked.
Kulbir Chikara, Group Editor, HariBhoomi, felt that advertorials were short term gains, and added that in the long term it might even dent the credibility of the newspaper. He stressed that camouflaged advertorials were real threats for the editorial.
When asked whether advertorial ate into the edit space, Chikara replied, “Availability of edit space has increased over period of time, so I don’t think advertorials eat into the edit space of the newspaper.”
Along similar lines, Sanwal said, “The ad-edit ratio, largely accepted as 40:60, is being maintained by most of the newspapers. However, increasing burden of ad revenue sometimes does affect it.”

Readers trust advertorials?
Citing the example of the one of the surveys done by the NaiDunia group, Vineet Sethia, Director, NaiDunia, remarked that advertisers had been looking for options other than conventional print ads and advertorials had emerged as a solution. “In one of our dipstick surveys, we found that readers in general believe and react more to a print ad if it was supported by news advocating similar messages. Probably this phenomenon has resulted in more advertorials,” he added.
So, are advertisers losing faith in conventional advertising? Arun Natesh, Head - Marketing, Business Standard, believed that advertorials served a different purpose, compared to conventional advertising. According to him, “Advertorials tend to be featurish, with the advertiser putting across details about an event or an initiative in greater detail, not to mention the ability to showcase individuals.”
He further said, “It is not appropriate for advertorials to look like normal reports. The styling, tone and tenor of writing, use of distinctive fonts, are completely different from what is used in the rest of the paper, as the reader will at a glance can be able to distinguish the content.”
On the increasing trend of advertorials in newspapers, KK Goenka, MD, Prabhat Khabar, commented that the need of innovative print advertisements could be one of the reasons for increasing advertorials. These days, newspapers are coming up with very low cover price and that is one of the reasons that dependency of the publications on advertisements was increasing day by day, he felt. “Advertisers are becoming demanding and opting for innovations in newspapers and in advertisements, hence developments in print are bound to happen,” he added.

The credibility factor
On the issue of credibility, Sethia of NaiDunia, remarked that if advertorials were published without an intention to mislead the reader, it did not affect the credibility of the product.
Meanwhile, Natesh of Business Standard, opined, “Advertorials ought to be treated as any other ad. As for credibility, when the distinction is clear, then there are no issues. However, when the advertorials start resembling regular editorial content, then there are serious credibility issues.”
Kakar of Aditya Birla Group noted that in the early days, an advertorial was seen as an innovation and was used as a one off to stand out of the clutter the credible way. “Today, many media houses have also recognised this fact and are now monetising this opportunity,” he concluded.

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