Native advertising is one of newest marketing trends to enter journalism, but does it have a harmful effect on the media?
Journalism has gone through some radical changes in the last decade. This has has been down to a number of factors, most relating to cost. The internet has also played a role. All this has changed the way the articles are written and Native Advertising is part of this trend.
What is Native Advertising?
So what is it then? Well wordstream.com has an interesting article on it and they describe it as; “simply put, native advertising is paid content. Articles, infographics, videos, you name it – if a content producer can make it, corporations can buy it and publishing platforms can promote it.” In short, companies are paying publishers, on-line and traditional, to write articles which show their product in a positive light. It isn’t always clear that is what is going on. As wordstream.com further adds; “These qualities are what make native advertisements difficult to spot, as they often blend in with the “organic” content extremely well. This is made even more challenging by the fact that there are no defined rules or guidelines on how publishers must label native ads, and standards of transparency vary widely from one publication to another.”
Native is going to become more prevalent regardless if people are aware of what it is or not. Again, taken from wordstream.com; -Almost half of consumers have no idea what native advertising is
-Of those consumers who do, 51% are skeptical -Three out of four publishers offer some form of native advertising on their sites -90% of publishers either have or plan to launch native advertising campaigns
-41% of brands are currently using native advertising as part of wider promotional efforts
So it is fairly common already. Half the people that are aware of it are already skeptical, more on that later.
Who Does it and Why?
The term that is often used to describe this process is advertorial. It is a horrible newspeak type word. Obviously a mixture of advert and editorial. I was convinced this was a new word and would not be in any self respecting dictionary. I was wrong. The Oxford Dictionary, 2006 edition, states the word goes back to the 60s. This illustrates the battle journalism has always had between giving information and making money.
This battle has taken on a new dimension since the internet came into popular use. It’s sudden rise in demand meant advertisers were flocking to the internet to get a piece of the action. As expected, most of the ads were rudimentary and consisted primarily of banners and then pop-ups. People have got bored of that now and rarely click on either of these.
People that work in marketing are generally not known for giving up, so the ads
became more nuanced. There was an event called Publishing 360 held in the Chartered Accountants House in April. One of the guest speakers was Chris Llewellyn, a man with over 30 years experience in the media and currently the CEO of Fédération Internationale de la Presse Périodique (FIPP), the worldwide magazine association. He gave an enlightening speech about how a Labour MP criticised the Conservative party’s website for having ads for Asian Mail Order Brides. What the MP failed to realise is that those advertisements were matched to his internet search history. Oops! Internet marketing has moved on and Native Advertising is part of this. They see it as a great way to have people looking at their products without them realising why.
Is it Bad For Journalism?
Native advertising on the net is still in its infancy, still there’s enough evidence to suggest that consumers are not too keen on the idea. They feel like they are being tricked. One would imagine that a marketing strategy that misleads consumers is not a long term viable option.
The effect it has on journalism may be a bigger issue. We have already seen its first major causality in the shape of Jill Abramson. As Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker; there were a number of reasons The New York Times got rid of their Executive Editor and it was mainly down to due wages and a clash of personalities, but the direction the publication was going with Native Advertising was certainly in the mix too. Abramson vehemently opposed it.
Native Advertising has had a hand in changing the shape of journalism. If you have ever wondered why internet journalism is now consisted mainly of lists Native Advertising is the reason why. Like Buzzfeed‘s ’10 Lifechanging Ways to Make Your Day More Efficient’ sponsored by General Electric. I often get the impression that these ads are directed at young people to make them act in a certain way, creating a new generation of consumers.
Another offshoot of this is it is changing the editorial content. Now this is nothing new. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that, many years ago in fact, newspapers will not publish stories that will run contrary to what is advertised in those newspapers. If they do, it is ‘framed’ in a favourable light. Robert Peston succinctly describes it thusly; “It is all about, awful word, monetising news”. What it does though, is further erode consumer confidence in a medium that has already taken a bashing in that regard. Large sections of society no longer trust the mainstream media. Journalism is meant to be corruption’s enemy, not its bedfellow.
Beware False Profits
It seems impossible to research this topic without constantly coming across John Oliver’s piece on the subject on Last Week Tonight. John Oliver is a popular man and the piece has been praised universally. Take Laura Slattery’s description in The Irish Times for instance; “Now the phenomenon has become the subject of a scathing and hilarious 11- minute attack from British satirist John Oliver.” I have to be honest, I didn’t have a good understanding of the concept until I watched this and in the course of the research of this article I have watched it numerous times. Each time though I get more convinced this may be the greatest example of Native Advertising.
This may seem a bit left of centre but lets have a look at a few key points. Firstly, Oliver
mentions the fact that his own show are not opposed to Native Advertising. HBO, the show’s broadcaster, actually used it on Buzzfeed to promote the shows first airing.
Secondly there is HBO’s funding. Oliver states that “we are extremely lucky on HBO because we don’t have advertisers… because of HBO’s business model nobody has adequately explained to me.” Meaning that they say can say what they like without worrying with clashing with the interests of advertisers. Now it doesn’t take too much looking around to find out HBO’s business model and it is nowhere as complicated as John Oliver’s segment would have you believe. The company has about 93 million subscribers world wide which brings in billions in revenue, but they are known to use advertising revenue too if even it is not always obvious as Ryan Fuhrmann explains; “There are also advertising revenue opportunities. HBO is again unique because it doesn’t air commercials during its programming, but sponsors are always willing to pay to have their products placed directly into a program to enhance its appeal. Apple Inc’s computers and Chrysler’s Jeep vehicles are frequently seen in popular shows and films, in the hopes that consumers associate the products with their favorite character or setting.”
Then there is the episode itself. There is a number of products named. Cadbury’s Cream Eggs, Old Navy, Snickers, MTN Dew, Chips Ahoy and Diet Coke. It must be pointed out that none of these are mentioned in a particularly positive light. “Cadbury’s Cream Eggs are filled with dolphin sperm” and “Old Navy clothing makes you look like a tacky murderer” etc. This probably doesn’t look like advertising, but the logos of these companies are shown when they are mentioned, the holy grail of advertising. Plus, he didn’t actually have to mention the products by name either. This could have been done by inference.
This episode is not the only example of a possibility of Native Advertising being used on Last Week Tonight. On an a recent episode he drank Bud Lite Lime to illustrate a point about Fifa and Sepp Blatter in particular. He did describe it as the worst tasting drink ever, but what better way to mask the fact it is an advert? This may be the future of Native Advertising. Oliver you charlatan.