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Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel Asia

More than words

Truth in travel is in peril, and pretty much everywhere else, as advertisers get their eager pens out.


Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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AS INFORMATION gets slowly blended into a generic stew blandly referred to as "content" with no seeming distinction made between seasoned columnists and bloggers, it is a further travesty of common sense and good taste when advertisers insinuate themselves into editorial forums, taking advantage of reader ignorance. The name of the game, as it always has been, is sponsorship. But without being too bleeding obvious.

There are two assumptions to this model. The first is that people actually read stuff, and the second is that readers are complete idiots who cannot distinguish between quality editorial and commercial pap.  Look out for sponsored editorial. It’s everywhere. A fashion brand runs a full page advertisement and right next to it, coincidentally, is a full page interview with its CEO waxing eloquent about the product. It is both amusing and alarming. There is no end to it.

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We might suggest something more sophisticated and very under-the-radar.

On the idyllic island of Bali (the word "idyllic" is brought to you by Dimwit Hotel Group), the new and extended Nusa Dua playground beckons the rich and famous. (This last full stop would not have been possible without the generous intervention of We Are The Best Hotel Group.) To help you pause, ponder and shop longer, the next sentence comes to you courtesy of The Titanic Shopping Mall that has kindly sponsored all commas, semi-colons and dashes in this report. This is a moment of great ____ (the word "joy" has been omitted due to the last minute pullout of lead sponsor Samaritans citing unavoidably depressing circumstances); and in following paragraphs the split infinitives and gerunds are brought to you by Grandma Bakery, the company that knows a thing or two about grammar. Finally, the most generous and unstinting backing of Foot in Mouth Retail Brand (that has seen record profits this year) has made our numerous – and not all grammatically correct or necessary – prepositions possible.

At Smart Travel Asia we get a barrage of letters from companies wishing to buy a "text link". This is a sponsored narrative linked to the advertiser masquerading as genuine editorial comment. And this is what the leading lights of a multi-billion-dollar advertising industry tout as the pinnacle of refinement. Advertisers are these days coy about advertising. Why? Does an "advertorial" with a text headline at the bottom corner of a newspaper page pushing some mindless weight-loss regimen carry the same weight as a quarter page of honest advertising?

To help you pause, ponder and shop longer, the next sentence comes to you courtesy of The Titanic Shopping Mall that has kindly sponsored all commas, semi-colons and dashes...

This “azure” sky would not have been possible without the kind intervention of and handsome dollar handouts from Bling Cosmetics on behalf of an unnamed benefactor headquartered in the Virgin Islands. It is almost as if clients deem it bad form to advertise unless done by extreme stealth. They choose to tiptoe into print using public relations forays, to pop up on Google adwords when a customer types in "quality porn from Russia" or "luxury cars", and they creep onto the margins of Facebook, which is supposed to be a social network of friends whose privileged and personal information is being daily processed, analysed and then used as bait.

Whatever happened to genuine old-fashioned travel advertising featuring lazy leopards, Land Rovers, alluring women and brilliant sunsets? Louis Vuitton makes a stab at it with a bored looking Angelina Jolie pouting on a raft somewhere in Cambodia, and airlines occasionally feature planes and destinations – rather than cut-price deals.

Interestingly, in the online babble, leading brands that once ruled the inside front covers and centrespreads of glossy print magazines through sheer dollar muscle, have been marginalised completely by brash young budget and boutique inns that dominate the Web. Talk to anyone going to Bangkok and they are abuzz with chatter about boutique beds. Rarely do they talk about Big Brands.

There is a simple reason for this. What the internet and budget rooms have in common is young customers. Youthful, generally impoverished travellers are more likely to chat online and post numerous comments about their experiences than rich, crusty, old warhorses with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Young people embrace the internet and their passion and patter dominates the worldwide web. Older folk who type with two fingers and peer defeated at their smartphones in a very unsmart manner, make less noise. Thus, luxury hotels, even the better ones, lack the brand ambassadors to do their bidding and get word-of-mouth happening while hole-in-the-wall establishments or even a couch in Manhattan can drum up a clatter of comment in minutes.

In the midst of this, advertisers are still trying to buy text links to con readers, and cross links to dupe search engines into hiking up rankings. It is a funny business indeed.

The world has changed. We are glorious, Brylcreemed Mad Men no more. Just MAD. And very very, very… (regrettably the end of this sentence cannot be brought to you due to the terminal stock market demise of lead sponsor Ontime Flights).

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