This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

The very, very fine line between advertising and promoting

As an old marketing guy, and someone who believes in ethical behavior, I personally like to see the separation of advertising. That is, I don't want to be bombarded with advertising messages everywhere I go, when I'm reading books, when I'm watching a movie, when I'm walking down the street.

And if you're an amateur at this, you can easily make the mistake of going too far. That is, walking around with a billboard hung on you that says "Eat at Joe's Cafe" or just conveniently working into every casual conversation that someone could "save like never before" at a particular store. Of course, it's more likely to happen nowadays on Facebook where the line is crossed and people begin to wonder if you're sincere, or you're just advertising?

And then it gets ridiculous, and people start seeing it everywhere. I rode over to the Fitness Center today wearing shorts with an ASU logo on it. And it may have made you wonder, "hmmm.... is Brad selling out? Does ASU give him money so he can be seen, and possibly photographed, with their logo?" Then you might wonder about the logo on my shoes, my shirt, whatever. If I mention that the fitness center was at my local community college, you could wonder "Does Brad get some kind of kickback from the school for mentioning them?" And while I'm at least trying to be funny here, you can see how things can easily go from that nice separation of advertising I like to a hazy place of secret promotions.

And if you're thinking that this kind of sneaking advertising is anything new, think again. Advertisers have been paying people to promote their products for just about forever. In movies it got so bad in the 1980s it was very distracting. It was called "product placement" and you could be sure that whenever an expensive stunt was set up, the cars crashed through billboards of the product that paid for it. It's more subtle nowadays, but it's still very popular.

Some of this sneaking promotion has reappeared because of the lack of any type of control on things like podcasts, blogs, that sort of thing. The FCC doesn't regulate me, and keep me from accepting "Payola", which would be money secretly given to me in exchange for promoting a product or service. But I'm a believer in ethics, so I won't do that. This blog is an example of what I approve of - the content is separate from the ads.

Ethical magazines and newspaper always made a clear distinction when something is advertising. If something doesn't obviously look like an ad, they'll write something clarifying that it is. This has been true for a very long time, and if you never noticed it, you probably will now.

I like advertising, and I encourage it. Advertising makes things like this free, and I like free stuff. I also like to know when I'm being sold something and when I'm not.