The Rumbled Grift Of “Sponsored Content”? Ctd

A reader gives Gawker some due regarding their partnership with Newcastle Ale:

I just wanted to provide this insight in case no one else has. I use Adblock Plus in my Firefox browser. When I clicked through to the Gawker post from your feed, the very first word and other words were missing from the body text – every instance of “Newcastle.” I toggled off ADP for just that page, and voila, they appeared.

I’ve used ADP for years and have enjoyed a pretty damn clean browsing experience. It’s kept me from getting too annoyed at online ads in general. But I wouldn’t have assumed it would protect my delicate sensibilities from innovative trickery such as paid content.

So, tip of the hat to Gawker. They instituted some tagging that allowed the brand they’re advertising to be made invisible if the smart visitor has taken measures to be shielded from ads. I think that’s rather ethical and deserves recognition.

For the record, the Dish has praised Newcastle Ale for its creative ads – when they are not enmeshed with editorial copy. We love ads – especially creative ones. We’ve had a Cool Ad Watch on this site for years. And yes, Gawker deserves props for tagging sponsored content as advertising. My concern is with the deceptive attempt to disguise ads as editorial – undermining the credibility of journalism, and conflating copy-writing with writing, for short-term cash at the expense of long-term viability. Another reader zooms out:

While I generally agree with you on the problem of native advertising, I have more confidence than you have that the audience can detect and separate advertising from journalism and commentary. Remember: native advertising has been around for a long, long, time.  For example:

there were the Mobil Oil ads, designed to mimic editorials, on the New York Times’s Op Ed page from its inception in 1970. William L. Bird’s Better Living and Stuart Ewen’s PR! discuss how corporations (and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others) have historically controlled, composed, produced and distributed advertising explicitly designed to imitate popular journalistic forms on the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on television.  Go to a library and flip through old Fortune magazines from the 1930s and 1940s and you’ll see precisely what I’m talking about.

The American audience is more savvy about their media than you give them credit for.  All those Buzzfeed/Gawker/Upworthy clicks don’t represent influence, modified behavior, or much of anything in reality.  That’s why digital advertising lags so far behind the pricing of print advertising – even in 2014.  People respond to print ads and direct mail; they don’t respond to digital ads.  The audience’s unresponsiveness to native advertising will ultimately lessen its effectiveness and presence (look at how The Atlantic‘s native ads on Scientology did precisely nothing to help the Church).

So I’m not as worried as you are.  The real problem is that when native ads prove useless and disappear, their existence will have seriously degraded the credibility of journalism.  And, when you get down to it, credibility is the ONLY thing the New York Times can sell that differentiates it from everything else on the web.  That’s your point; and we agree that this short term fix is terrible in the long run.