First, it was sponsored content – advertisements designed to look like articles. Then it was a full-fledged fusion of journalism and advertizing, as sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy actively worked with corporations to create “brand journalism.” Increasingly, however, the middle-man may be by-passed altogether. And you can easily see how this may come to be: why try cooperating with a website to get their “editors” to come up with ideas and concepts to promote a company’s bottom line, when you can simply hire the journalists yourself, pay them more and make your own publication?
Google is on the case, natch:
While Google has yet to formally introduce its native offering, numerous AdExchanger sources with knowledge of its plans say the company is taking a multi-pronged and deliberate approach to the native trend, stitching together multiple native ad offerings geared to different media sellers. Among those solutions are ad-serving support for sponsored posts on premium publisher websites, and a content recommendation engine of the sort pioneered by Outbrain and Taboola, both of which may launch in 2015.
And new research shows that the most common form of “disclosure” used by websites to demarcate paid posts isn’t working:
Sponsored content using disclosure techniques like the home page buyout (used, for example, by The Wall Street Journal) and the persistent disclosure banner (used by Slate) were only identified as ads by readers 29 percent of the time. In contrast, Nudge found that over half of the 100 people it polled were able to to identify ads that featured disclosures within the content itself. In-content disclosures are rare compared to the other techniques, though … It’s easy to understand publishers’ hesitation toward overly disclosing the brands sponsoring their content. A recent poll by content marketing company Contently found that two-thirds of readers felt tricked when they clicked on sponsored content, and over half of readers said that they don’t trust sponsored content at all.
The FT’s US news editor, Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, has a must-read on how all these trends are combining to end independent journalism as we’ve known it:
General Electric’s online news site has evolved from a list of press releases to a virtual magazine using animated gifs, professional photography, videos and infographics (“all the different points of entry we used at Forbes”, Tomas Kellner, [a Columbia Journalism School-trained former Forbes journalist] notes) which features tales of innovation, science and technology from around the giant industrial group. Many are engaging and informative, and some – such as a feature on a Japanese indoor lettuce farm powered by 17,500 GE LED lights – get as many as 500,000 readers …
“There have been corporate newsrooms for ever but they were putting out press releases to try and get you guys to cover it,” notes Richard Edelman, whose family firm is the world’s largest PR agency. “Now it’s self-publishing. That’s the big difference.” Every company is now realizing that it can be a media company, he says.
Notice the pedigree of the dude running the corporate p.r. show: a Columbia J School alum from the mainstream media. The financial incentives for younger journalists to become PR purveyors could not be starker: