Today’s Online Journalism Update, Ctd

A reader writes:

Regarding your brief reference to Copyranter’s piece on native ads, I’m more than a little shocked you didn’t focus on the other parts of his piece that seem to perfectly validate many of the accusations you’ve made against sponsored content and Buzzfeed’s business model. Here is how Copyranter characterizes the company’s ad strategy (and let’s not forget this is coming from a bonafide ad expert who wrote copy for 20 years):

… BuzzFeed’s native advertising runs directly against what makes a great ad great—an execution that memorably presents a product benefit (or the brand’s image). A great ad stands out and grabs you and entertains and informs you while delivering a message you remember, branding the brand’s name into your brain.

But more and more big brands are robotically onboard the BuzzFeed buzz saw, because they get to attach their commercials at the end of listicle posts that have nothing to do with their product’s benefit and, often, have nothing to do with their product at all (click the Kia ad). But lost-at-sea marketing managers get to show off an online thingamajig to their bosses with their brand name on it that has tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of views. “Look at that viral lift, baby, massive eyeballs!”

And your readers should check out this completely damning personal account regarding Buzzfeed’s professed separation of their editorial and business departments:

But really: How “seriously” does BuzzFeed take the “separation of church and state?” During my 18 months working in their editorial department as an ad critic —what I was hired to be—I (the “state”) was emailed three times by three different staff account reps (the “church”) to “do anything I could” to help promote a new video ad by a then current BuzzFeed client. I was even emailed by Peretti (the “Pope”) to post about a Pepsi ad, where he helpfully included a suggested (positive) editorial direction.

As I was still fairly new at BuzzFeed, I figured I had to do the Pepsi post, right? I didn’t like the ad, I didn’t hate the ad, I would not have reviewed the ad, but the fucking CEO sent it to me! I wrote about it, positively, and posted it.

Later that same day, my post went to the front page, and there it sat, right below a “yellow” “featured partner” ad post about the same Pepsi video—written by a BuzzFeed in-house creative—with the same exact take on the ad. The headlines were even almost identical. Did Peretti know about the in-house ad? I don’t know. Ask him.

Sorry, I didn’t save a screen shot of this rather egregious church/state violation, or the email from Peretti, because I don’t think like a scumbag lawyer when I’m working for somebody. But I did delete my Pepsi post, immediately. It seemed the Mad Men thing to do.