QIS When is an advertorial unethical?

Advertorials have long been regarded as the advertisements that do not resemble an ad. Marketers and PR professionals are creating messages, stories, images, and media, which appear as unbiased, helpful, and objective information. Yet, it is carefully devised messaging from the company, in the form of sponsored content or a native ad. Certainly, using advertorials is ethical. However, ethics are in question when your advertorial is not clearly seen as an advertisement framed in an editorial context.

Today, many consumers, but not all, are savvy about what they see and can identify what is strictly advertising versus a third-party credible endorsement (earned media) from the people they trust. However, in order to create a form of media that is helpful, and framed in a way that is also human, ethical, and pleasing to the eye, Ethical Marketers should adhere to these top tips for their advertorials:

  • • Make the clear distinction in the advertorial that your company is the sponsor of the advertorial or native advertising. Clearly represent that you are the business entity sharing the story or messaging displayed.
  • • Capture attention with genuine situations, actual customers and authentic viewpoints in your advertorial that make sense for your audience.
  • • Let your audience know your content is not earned media. Making content look like earned media is unethical.
  • • When you share advertorials on social media use distinguishing hashtags including #ad #sponsored #SponsoredAd and #sponsorship.

Because the lines are blurring between marketing, advertising and PR, and distinguishing types of campaigns is more difficult, it is even more important for customers to understand the difference between how they are being reached. You need to be clear in your marketing, so they don’t mistake advertising and promotions for public relations and the earned media that is well-known for the trusted credible third-party endorsement.

QI6 What are false claims in marketing? Are they unethical or illegal?

Today, you hear and see all the disclaimers in pharmaceutical advertisements surrounding their products. For example, take the drug Dupixent, which is known to treat severe asthma. When you watch the Dupixent television commercial you receive information about the positive effects of the drug. However, at the end of the commercial, similar to any prescription drug product, you learn the long list of disclaimers about the negative side effects:4

  • • Do not use this product if you are allergic to Dupixent.
  • • Allergic reactions can occur including anaphylaxis, which is severe.
  • • Tell your doctor right away about signs of inflamed blood vessels, rash, shortness of breath, chest pain, or any tingling and numbness in your limbs.
  • • Do not take Dupixent if you have any parasitic infections.
  • • Stop any asthma medicines including oral steroids when using this product.

Despite all of the possible side effects and the “don’ts” for this drug, the advertisement still states, “You can du-more with less asthma,” and to “Talk to your doctor about Dupixent.” It would be unethical and illegal in terms of the product’s advertising to omit any of the product disclaimers, regardless of the severity of the side effect.5

However, what about unsubstantiated claims you hear from celebrity doctors on TV who are sharing information about products. For example, Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz (known as Dr. Oz) was on Fox News offering his thoughts on a drug that was making big headlines in the news as a possible treatment for Coronavirus. During the segment, Dr. Oz shared his thoughts on the drug hydroxychloroquine, which is commonly used to treat malaria and lupus. Dr. Oz told Fox News host Sean Hannity that a French infectious disease specialist, who he spoke with previously, had said that using hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin may cause “trivial like rashes” which was the extent of the complications.6

After receiving backlash for his comments, Dr. Oz later took a more cautious stance toward hydroxychloroquine. The Veteran’s Administration had also just released a study finding there was “no benefit” from the use of the drug in Covid-19 patients. At the same time, they discovered that more deaths occurred among the people who received the drug. Dr. Oz shifted his perspective in subsequent interviews.7

Ethical Marketers beware of what celebrities claim or what they share, whether it is under your guidance or even what they endorse on their own in interviews. Of course, if they are affiliated with your brand, then what they say can cause harm and can affect your reputation. Your good judgment is required. Be the conscious mind of the organization and be wary of what is fair, objective, and safe communication. People in challenging times look to the experts for their advice and guidance, not false and misleading claims.

Even if the influential personality is not officially representing your product, you have to be responsible to your consumers. Consider the comment made by President Trump about household cleaning products and Coronavirus, during his task force briefing, and how the media reported those comments. Clorox quickly rolled out with their clarifying statement. If there is any doubt as to how your customers will be influenced by what they see or hear from celebrities, politicians, or other influential individuals, then get your statements ready and distributed widely and quickly.8

False claims and misleading information, even when unintentional, are unethical, and in poor judgment. Brands cannot allow these types of comments to represent them and to confuse the public. They also cannot be “on the record” as factual information about their brands. It is up to you to err on the side of caution, especially when consumer safety is at stake. Follow the ethical rule here ... do no harm!

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