Maybe you read the article that was shared on Facebook that said “10 best places to visit this summer” and maybe that article ended up influencing your choice for summer vacation destination. You may have thought that this article was written by a user or a travel enthusiast that wanted to share their experience.
In the worst case you may have thought that this article was written by a news reporter? What if I told you that this article is a part of a disturbing trend called “news based advertising” wherein corporations sponsor content that is shared with users and intended to influence their decisions. In this article we will understand more about news based advertising as well as the ethical implications that impact the issue.
The Rise of News Based Advertising
Online advertising has reached a saturation point. The situation is so severe that the pay per click model is almost irrelevant. Less than 0.2% of people that view an online advertisement actually click it. Therefore, there is a serious lack of trust between consumers that view online advertisements and companies that sponsor them. This is leading to big budgets earmarked for online advertisements going down the drain.
This sparked off a new trend. Companies like Buzzfeed have come into existence and have brought along the news based advertising model. Consumers tend to engage a lot more with such content. Not only do they read the content avidly, but they also share the content on social media giving it their stamp of approval. The method has become so effective that traditional media companies like Time Inc have also created special teams to meet the demands of their clients. Corporate behemoths like General Electric and Chevron have also been known to extensively use news based advertisements.
What is News Based Advertising ?
The simplest definition of news based advertising is that news articles actually do the work of advertisements. An advertisement is camouflaged as a news article. For instance if a company wanted to promote a brand of cereal as a healthy breakfast option, they would get an article written with the title “ 5 healthy breakfast options” wherein they would list 4 other options which are already accepted by the public and then add their brand to the list as well.
Media houses like Buzzfeed and ScoopWhoop are required to disclose that these articles are sponsored by corporations. However, the disclosure happens in a form that is not obvious and difficult to find. Hence, the law is followed in letter but not is spirit.
The Principle of Separation of News and Advertisements
Media houses have always been required to ensure that the revenue that they generate from advertisements does not impact their news reporting. News is an important part of the social fabric and it is important that the news is not polluted via corporate interests. Media houses are therefore believed to have a basic responsibility that they clearly mark their advertisements as advertisements. This will enable the user to determine what content has been genuinely reported and what content has been sponsored and therefore might have ulterior motives.