Derek Thompson, moderator of last week’s throwdown, sounds off:
I wish both sides conceded one final point to the other. I wish Ben conceded that BuzzFeed advertorials are intimate mimics of BuzzFeed articles — it’s not unreasonable to be confused once or twice — and it creates a tension with transparency. BuzzFeed is trying to make ads that are as charming and delightful as articles, but the more clearly they say WARNING THIS IS A WEB ADVERTISEMENT, the more likely people are to ignore their charming delights, because we have been taught to ignore all Web ads. I wish Andrew had paused in his fiery attack on advertorials and BuzzFeed to acknowledge something simple: Advertising does a good thing in the world. It pays great journalists to find and tell the truth. It’s a tradition worth preserving through both experimentation and severe transparency.
I thought I did say that at one point. Advertizing has long been an essential revenue source for journalism, and I am a big fan of it. The Dish has run a “Cool Ad Watch” for years, we’ve been paid in the past by media institutions that get a lot of money through ads, and I sure haven’t ruled out having them in the future, if a subscription-only model cannot get us enough revenue to roughly maintain the budget we had last year at the Beast.
My issue is with advertizing that is crafted in-house by the publication for clients and that is designed to look almost exactly like a regular editorial page and nowhere has the word “advertisement” on it to separate it from editorial copy. I notice that such ethical clarity is still not considered even at the Atlantic.
You can smell the bullshit a mile away. The very phrases – “sponsored content”, “native advertizing” – are as accurate as “enhanced interrogation.” It’s either an advertisement or your media company is producing content. Creating editorial content for advertizers for money, rather than for readers for its own sake, is a major shift in this industry. There is an obvious solution, as Derek suggests. It is to make the advertorials look more different from editorial than they now do and slap a clear word ADVERTISEMENT on top of it.
If that ethical labeling ruins your business model, it’s proof that your business model isn’t ethical. Right? Or am I missing something?