There isn’t even a fig-leaf any more. The reporter and the copy-writer are exactly the same person over at the Mail Online:
Mail Online runs journalists’ bylines on the [native advertising] pieces, a move designed not only for transparency but also for commitment to sponsor content being held to a high standard …
A recent example of this is a monthlong campaign kicked off last week for T-Mobile. Mail Online pitched the carrier with a content program that’s part of a larger ad package for T-Mobile’s new home-networking technologies … That’s where Mail Online’s U.S. technology and science editor Mark Prigg comes into the picture. In the first of five sponsored offerings, he was enlisted to create the first piece of the program, a detailed examination of the “10 surprising hacks to improve your home’s technology for FREE.” The piece is wrapped by a T-Mobile advertising “skin,” and carries “Sponsored by T-Mobile” in blue. Unlike other publishers, Mail Online does not file its native ad stories in a sponsored section — this piece is in its science and tech vertical.
Prigg is also the “journalist” who reviews T-Mobile products for the paper. And what’s fascinating to me is how so many editors have not struggled with this obvious conflict, but regarded all criticism as absurd: “It’s amazing the debate continues to go on when advertorials have been around forever,” says Mail Online North America CEO Jo Steinberg.
Arianna Huffington has also proudly announced that HuffPo staffers will now be directly embedded in an ad agency to create the native ads that will run on HuffPo. There is not even a scintilla of concern about the journalistic ethics of that. As for whether the surrender of journalism to advertising is actually selling anything – well:
There’s more evidence that the impact of sponsored content, a hot trend in advertising, is hard to measure. According to a new report from the Content Marketing Institute, only 23% of business-to-consumer marketers polled said they were successful at tracking the return on investment of their content marketing program. That figure rose to 43% for marketers who said they had a written content marketing strategy.
And the beat goes on …