- In an endless bid for attention, advertising is going ‘native’ and sneaking into places formerly reserved for editorial content. In his analysis of native advertising, host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver states“the line between editorial content and advertising in news media is blurrier and blurrier, that’s not bullshit, its repurposed bovine waste”.
- Simply, native advertising is the rebranding of an old advertising scheme known as advertorials or branded content- that being paid advertisements disguised as editorial content. The New York Times contributor, Ken Auletta stated “Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise- we will camouflage your ad to make them look like news stories”.
Essentially using trickery and deception to make the reader or viewer trust that the content they’re reading is honourable and written by an actual reporter, rather than being an advertisement paid for by a sponsor.
This is not to say all journalists and their respective writing is honourable, yet in the words of CIO editor-in-chief, Brian Carlson “not that people like me are all credible, but at least you can call a spade a spade”.
It’s ordering your regular coffee from your regular coffee shop,only to realise as you rush back to a class you’re already late for that they’ve forgotten to use soy milk.
- The WAN IFRA ‘Trends in Newsroom report’ 2014 outlined native advertising as one of the predominant and ever-growing trends of the industry. This trend is discussed as the ‘separation of church and state’- a common metaphor for the newsrooms effective day-to-day division between advertising and editorial content. This report views native advertising in two ways, the first being financial reward for the business side and the second being a clear risk to journalistic integrity, editorial content and the brand.
- Although native advertising is trending ever-upwards, it is not a new concept. In 1917 the Australian Federal Trade Commission settled a case with Muensen Specialty Co., over an advertisement for a vacuum cleaner- presented as a favourable newspaper review. This was the first instance where native advertising or advertorials were called out as “dishonest advertising".
- However, it seems native content is looking for ways to become more and more camouflaged within our modern journalism, EmilyBell from the Columbia School of Journalism states, “today you might expect to see something similar, but in the form of a viral link circulated round your social network, entitled “13 vacuum cleaners that suck in the wrong way, and one that doesn’t”.
- Although it is generally understood that a wall separating the editorial and business side is imperative, with convergent journalism and a bid for increased online content, it seems the industry is struggling to be financially viable. Advertisers must up their game, because let’s be realistic, it’s very easy to ignore banner and pop-up advertisements.
- The commodification of news has become means of justifying native advertising- no longer are media industries ‘for the good of the population’ and ‘for truth’ or in the words of the New York Times mission statement “to enhance society”. Rather it has become the means to an end within adepreciating economical industry. In essence, press cannot be free and independent if nobody is willing to pay for it.
In the eyes of a truth-seeking, coffee-addict,there is only one solution: employ practices in which native advertising is clearly marked.
- For example, The New York Times, which according to its Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan “has done very well, in that it is labelling the native advertising very carefully and so you’ll see the words ‘Paid Post”. Another publication doing it’s bit to work hand in hand with journalist integrity and advertorials is The Wall Street Journal, which according to the WAN IFRA report is “doing that by using a light yellow box across the headline of a story and also stating at both the top and bottom of the sponsored story that the content was not created by the WSJ editorial team”.
One media platform taking a different perspective to native advertising is satirical “news” website, The Onion, which describes itself as a“full-service agency…combining the best comedy writers and marketing talent to create advertising content that is worthy of The Onion name”. Here, brands sponsor posts with The Onion, knowing a satirical article will follow. However just like native advertising is often mistaken as news or editorial content, so too is the content of this website often mistaken as a reputable news source.
Perhaps one of the most brilliant examples of native advertising comes in the form of this Home Depot video:
- Playing off the way technology giant, Apple presents its new products, The Onion has developed an advertisement you assume to be reputable, purely for it’s analogies to a reputable company. Although the advertisement is clearly sponsored with the Home Depot brand clearly marked, all be it satirical, the advertisement is presented in a truthful manner.
Aside from breaching journalist integrity, from a legal perspective, according to the Advertising Standards Bureau and Advertising Standards Board, all forms of advertising, including native advertising, must be disclosed as advertising and clearly identified as such. The Australian Consumer Law also further protects the public as it permits punishment to occur for commercial dishonesty if consumers believe false advertising has deceived them.
However, both instances do not provide full protection against the trickery that native advertising is. Firstly these laws protecting advertorial trickery are self-regulated, meaning although consumers can make complaints, it is ultimately up to the respective agency to provide clear markers for content, which may be considered native. And secondly, it is unlikely paid content will be considered deceptive, as more often than not it does not directly mention the advertisers goods and services.
Although it may be noted, no news outlets are writing news stories directly for compensation, just like no barista deliberately burns the milk. In the words of The Politic journalist, Jacob Neis, “if camouflaging sponsored content as native advertising is not a black-and-white violation of trust between reader and reporter, it is a very dark shade of grey”.
You take a deep breath – finished. How about another coffee?