Archives For: Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content Watch

Feb 18 2014 @ 1:45pm

From the reader who flagged the tweet:

I can’t tell whether it’s serious, but I can tell that people are seriously pissed:

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But the beat will go on … and the press won’t write about it.

Much of the media isn’t covering the grotesque transformation of journalism into corporate public relations – well, they’re all in on it, aren’t they? – but the latest example is really rich. The Guardian – that lefty, anti-corporate, “comment-is-free” trans-Atlantic behemoth – is now merging with Unilever to produce “content”. What does that mean exactly? Well, follow the newspeak:

Guardian News and Media has signed a seven-figure deal to provide content about sustainability under the brand of household goods giant Unilever. It is the first deal for the new Guardian Labs division – which describes itself as a “branded content and innovation agency which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences”.

Guardian Labs employ some 133 staff including designers, video producers, writers and strategists who will work with The Guardian’s editorial, marketing and digital development teams.

A “content and innovation” agency. Helping “brands … tell their stories.” This is called public relations, guys. There’s nothing new or innovative about it whatsoever. What’s new is the deliberate attempt to merge this industry with journalism itself and to disguise the difference with bullshit. Smell the ordure:

The Guardian partnership with Unilever is said to be “centred on the shared values of sustainable living and open storytelling”.

Who knew that the giant manufacturer of such products as Axe Body Spray, Vaseline and Ben and Jerry’s has long been committed to “open story-telling,” whatever the fuck that means? Then check this out:

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“Strategic Entertainment”

Jan 31 2014 @ 3:42pm

Chipotle has produced a miniseries about factory farming:

Farmed and Dangerous, which premieres on Hulu on Feb. 17, focuses on a fictional industrial agriculture company that devises a money-saving scheme to feed cows petroleum-based animal pellets. Lots of hijinks with exploding cattle and a nefarious PR spokesman ensue. The show exposes issues in the agriculture industry that Chipotle has publicly denounced, such as dependence on fossil fuels and overuse of antibiotics on animals. But instead of hearing about these points from the restaurant directly, viewers will learn about them by laughing at Twin Peaks star Ray Wise and a wide cast of other characters.

Could this be the future of advertising?

This is not advertising, exactly, but it’s not regular video programming either. Daniel Rosenberg, a partner at Piro, calls it “strategic entertainment.” The goal, he says, is “adding value to people’s lives rather than interrupting it with traditional advertising.” …

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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:

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Here’s an “ad/post/article/sponsored content/whatever, it pays the rent” that leaps out:

Newcastle Ale ‘bought’ me — an in-house copywriter — because actual Gawker writers can’t accept money from advertisers (not that I’m personally cashing Newcastle’s checks but you know, whatever). As someone being paid to write this, I have to say that it’s the greatest ad ever, mostly because Newcastle asked me to use those exact words. Is it the greatest ad I’ve ever been paid to call the greatest ad ever? Yes.

It’s by Stephanie Georgopulos, Senior Content Producer at Gawker Media, or more technically, a “sponsored collaboration” between Newcastle and Studio@Gawker. Yes, the newspeak deepens every time you check in.

It’s an interesting twist on sponsored content, and perhaps – or am I over-reaching? – a harbinger of its eventual collapse.

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Scott Horton recently snagged an interview with the reclusive, ornery philosopher I mentioned today. It’s a beaut. Question 6 is on writing for money. But the questions on Nietzsche, and racism get some fascinating answers.

Erik Wemple has another blockbuster piece on the corporate public relations newsletter known as Mike Allen’s Playbook at Politico. This time, it’s about the constant, fawning press releases Allen writes for his favorite news channel and personal idol, Roger Ailes. The latest piece of puffery from Allen is a summary of the new Gabe Sherman book on the Republican operative running the Republican Party’s propaganda outlet. For some reason, almost none of the critical details about Ailes made it into Allen’s account, merely anything that Ailes himself would be happy with:

He chose far more flattering stuff, like the part about Ailes being “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” about Ailes’s rough childhood, about Ailes winning over Rupert Murdoch, about Ailes winning over employees, about Ailes’s marketing genius, about Politico scoring a presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan library, to Ailes’s dismay. Save for a nod to Fox News’s alleged deception over an infamous anti-Obama video from May 2012, Allen all but “Zevved up” the Sherman book. That is, he made it sound a lot like the very favorable Ailes biography that author Zev Chafets last year published with the network boss’s full cooperation.

To take a fair but highly critical book and make it seem like a hagiography is Allen’s mojo when it comes to Politico’s advertizing clients (including those whose sponsored content appears within Allen’s daily suck-up to power and money in Washington). But the Ailes-worship is close to pathological. Just read it all yourself and make up your own mind. But, to my mind, Wemple proceeds to cite case after case after case of fellatial coverage of Fox and Ailes from the perkiest team-player in the Washington Media-Corporate Village. Now, you might think that this is too easy. Selective pickings from Allen’s daily, lucrative plugs for the rich and powerful could find anything. But what makes Wemple’s pieces persuasive is that he also includes any examples he can also find of faintly-critical coverage. They’re there, but in such minuscule proportion to the relentless positive p.r. for Fox that they almost seem designed to bolster its credibility. And that’s why Allen’s disgracefully tardy response to this is so lame:

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The Dish constantly links to and loves Maria Popova. For me, she represents the best that the Internet has to offer. She gets paid by reader Schopenhauerdonations and affiliate income. She writes what she loves. She reads books. She has seized the limitless potential of the web – but by bucking the cult of contemporaneity, by digging up the old and true rather than the new and buzzy, by building a community of readers who flock to an oasis far away from what she has called the “Buzzwashing” of our collective online minds.

In some ways, her appeal is pretty straightforward as a writer. She is unmistakably genuine. Nothing she writes is obviously designed purely for getting money (although, of course, she has done really well by simply writing tirelessly about what she loves). And so you can see why re-reading some of Schopenhauer’s essays on writing and journalism appealed to her. His brutal take-down of writing for money is about as good a case for that position as I’ve read:

The author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has something to impart. Writing for money [is], at bottom, the ruin of literature. It is only the man who writes absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books! This can never come to pass so long as money is to be made by writing. It seems as if money lay under a curse, for every author deteriorates directly [whenever] he writes in any way for the sake of money. The best works of great men all come from the time when they had to write either for nothing or for very little pay.

When I was very young, I used to wonder why the newspaper had the same size every day – as if what was actually news didn’t vary, when it obviously did. As a working writer for much of my adult life, I understand now why the economics of journalism operates that way, and probably has to. But an economics that directly rewards eyeballs at the expense of any other criterion – i.e. the current economics of most of the web – or a “journalism” that is paid for by corporations – i.e. sponsored content – would horrify Schopenhauer. His standards are impossibly high; his judgments overly broad and caustic. But he was onto something, as is Maria. And our culture could learn a lot from it.

(Painting by Jules Lunteschütz)

A Sign Of The Times, Ctd

Jan 9 2014 @ 1:13pm

Dell York Times

A reader testifies to the local impact of national news brands going the way of sponsored content:

I work at a newspaper in flyover country, and Wolff’s column on the NYTimes’ embrace of “low advertising” hit me like a brick. Not that my organization has anything resembling the cachet of the Times – far from it. But like every other newspaper in America, we’re undergoing head-snapping changes that, at times, feel as if the ultimate goal is to turn us into Buzzfeed, or a local-level clone.

Five things you can do to avoid traffic jams! Here are 10 things you should do when the mercury drops below zero! More and more, our publication and web site are filled with the “cheesy come ons” that Wolff describes – and that’s the supposed NEWS content. I can’t help but think this ultimately devalues us as a legitimate source of real news, even if it drives web traffic higher. Maybe this is the democratization of content, where content that generates clicks is considered the “best” type of content, but best for whom? It’s as if we’re replacing meat and potatoes with Cheetos – delicious but ultimately frivolous and unsatisfying.

When you see the metrics every day, and it’s clear that quick-hit crime stories or freak-show stories generate as many clicks as an investigative piece that took weeks to report, what rationale can there possibly be for doing the investigative work, the longer-form stories that actually help explain the workings of a community to the people who live there? That’s what I fear; that in our relentless pursuit of clicks, in our mania to remake ourselves in the image of Buzzfeed, we’ll ultimately make ourselves less relevant. And then what would differentiate us from any other aggregator or producer of cheesy come-ons?

Another sends the above screenshot:

I saw this when I went to the New York Times website a few minutes ago. “The New” – it’s “Sleeker. Faster. More Intuitive” – just like a Dell?

I should add that I do think that the design – especially the light blue and the blunt disclosure “PAID FOR AND POSTED BY DELL” – put the NYT in a different league than, say, Buzzfeed. But I get queasy reading another disclosure that reads:

This page was produced by the Advertising Department of The New York Times in collaboration with Dell. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in its preparation.

This is what we were told yesterday:

The labor and cost of creating native ads is a hurdle, and the Times made it clear that it sees the product as suited to only a limited number of advertisers. It won’t come cheap for the Times, either, which is looking to hire a dozen or so people for a “content studio” to staff the effort.

So I guess the NYT employees who will be writing the copy for a sponsored page with the New York Times brand at the top are not part of the news and editorial staffs. So what kind of staffers are they exactly?

Read On

The NYT Follows Buzzfeed

Jan 8 2014 @ 2:15pm

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The pinnacle of American journalism is now hiring a Dell employee to write its “articles”:

“We wanted to start with someone who we thought really understood how to be a great storyteller,” said Meredith Kopit Levien, evp of advertising for the Times. “And [Dell global communications managing editor] Stephanie Losee was [a writer] at Fortune. She has deep journalistic chops herself. So this was a very deliberate choice to go with Dell.”

Let me get this straight: the New York Times is hiring a copy-writer as a pseudo-journalist because she used to work as a real journalist. Time Inc is now having its “editors” report directly to the business side and the NYT is opening its elegant blue-stocking legs as wide as it decently can to accommodate a computer company. This passage was particularly revealing:

Dell used its launch ad to spotlight stories on topics like millennials in the workplace, marketing tech and women entrepreneurs. The campaign, which is set to run for three months, contains a mix of content from its own newsroom, articles from the Times’ archives and original stories by Times-contracted freelancers on Dell-chosen topics.

My italics. So Dell is now a “newspaper” partnering with the New York Times. By which I mean that the New York Times will actually hire people to write Dell’s ad copy and make it look as close to the rest of the paper as possible. Then this:

After Dell, a handful of other clients whom the Times wouldn’t name have committed to using the product in the coming months. But the labor and cost of creating native ads is a hurdle, and the Times made it clear that it sees the product as suited to only a limited number of advertisers. It won’t come cheap for the Times, either, which is looking to hire a dozen or so people for a “content studio” to staff the effort.

Always follow Orwell to the language. Have you ever heard of a newspaper having a “content studio” before?

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