Editorial content is anything published in print or on the Internet that is designed to inform, educate or entertain and is not created to attempt to sell something. It is considered to be the opposite of commercial content or advertising copy. However, the distinction between the two types of content isn’t always quite so clear-cut.
A good example of pure editorial content in the world of printed media would be a road test of a new car or motorcycle. New vehicles are traditionally lent to motoring journalists who test-drive them and then write a report to be published in a motoring newspaper or magazine, expressing their opinion of the new vehicle. The people who buy these magazines do so because they’re interested to hear what the experienced testers have to say, and they value their opinion. The motoring journalist isn’t trying to sell anything to the readers; they are just giving them information. Road tests are usually a mixture of objective performance figures such as how fast a vehicle goes and how much fuel it uses together with more subjective information such as how much the tester liked driving it. Although the road test is not intended to be a sales pitch, there have been examples in the past when the tester praised the new machine so highly that the manufacturer re-printed it in other publications with the word “Advertisement” at the top of the page. In these rare cases, the original editorial content has become commercial content, i.e. the same words and pictures were then used for a different purpose.
Advertorials are advertisements that are designed to appear to be informative editorial pieces, and they’ve been around for a long time. One famous example produced by David Ogilvy in the 1950s was the “Guinness guide to oysters.” This work contained pictures and descriptions of various types of oysters and suggested that Guinness was an ideal drink to accompany them. The campaign was so successful that people wrote to Guinness for prints suitable for framing and metal versions of it were produced and displayed on restaurant walls. Ogilvy once called the Guinness ads, “part of the warp and woof of English life”, meaning they had become part of the culture.
In the modern digital world, blogs provide their writers with the opportunity to mix the two types of content together. While blogs can be very specialised and express the writer’s own opinion that is independent from a certain brand, as in traditional editorial content, they can also make use of affiliate links to make money. If for example, a blogger reviews a book and then provides a link to Amazon, they will be paid a commission if the reader of the blog buys the book from the online shop. Additionally, the more often the blog is shared on social media, the more sales the author is likely to make, so it’s up to them to produce good content that people will like. Native advertising is another method used to make an advertisement appear like it was part of a site’s content. A blog about travel, for example, may present hundreds of articles and pictures of foreign locations together with little, matching ads from travel agents.
It could be argued that editorial content is defined by what it is not, namely trying to sell anything. These days, journalistic as well as academic and scientific publications still produce it, together with public service broadcasters like the BBC. Much of this is also available online. Yet, in cyberspace, things aren’t always what they seem, and marketers take advantage of increasingly sophisticated methods to reach us.