Thursday, October 30, 2014

Marketing to Children and the Effects on Society

Jackson Phipps

It is no secret that marketing professionals direct much of their attention towards the impressionable population.  With over a quarter of the U.S. population being under the age of 20, advertisers have a large demographic who have yet to make up their mind on which brands and products they will be loyal to throughout their lives.  Several media outlets that are primarily used by the younger generation are inundated with prospective marketing ideas that look to gain the customer loyalty of future adults. These ads range from mundane to very controversial and arguable inappropriate.

Whether it is the nature and appearance of the advertisement or simply the product being advertised, companies have continued to use tactics that look to exploit children by playing on their vulnerability and susceptibility to attractive ads.

Few platforms reach as many people as the social media site Facebook.  As of 2014, there are nearly 180,000,000 users in the U.S with over 50% of these users being in the 18-34 demographic.  Because this age group is of particular interest to advertisers, extreme measures have been taken to ensure that advertisements reach their intended audience.  Several factors are being used and interpreted to target specific audiences in order to match them with the ads that would be of particular interest.  Not only is the content of the advertisements controversial, but the methods used in the process are bordering on invasive to the user's privacy, especially unsuspecting children.  With nearly 22 million children under the age of 18 frequenting the site (7 million under the age of 13, despite being a violation of Facebook's policies), the potential risks for advertisers is far outweighed by the benefit of being able to reach and influence such a large number of future consumers.

Age statistics show that Facebook is nothing short of gold mine for advertisers.

Fast Food Advertising & Obesity

It is no secret that the fast food industry spends a staggering amount of money on advertising each year.  In fact, 4.6 billion dollars was spent in 2012 on advertising that glamorized their extremely unhealthy products.  Because children make such a distinct impact in the industry, many marketing campaigns were aimed at children who have the ability to convince parents to spend their money at one of the many convenient establishments.  Though only about a quarter of the population in the U.S. is under 20, fast food advertisers spend nearly half of their money on this vulnerable demographic.

In 2012 it was reported that nearly a third of all U.S. children could be considered obese or overweight.  Ironically, over the same period that obesity grew exponentially, the amount of young smokers has decreased dramatically.  A very strong reason for both of these trends can be traced back to the limited amount of advertising allowed for the tobacco industry and the vast amount of advertising permitted for fast food. Children are exposed to nearly 4,000 fast food-related ads per year and the effects of these can be seen in the obesity rate as well as the overall decline in the health of society.  The same children who grew up watching thousands of fast food commercials have become obese and unhealthy adults, costing the government and taxpayers a significant amount of money.  The impact of advertising on this nationwide downward health trend is not the only culprit, but remains a major factor in the obesity rates.

Advertisers are often presented with a plethora of moral and ethical decisions to make regarding the content they expose to the public.  Due to the profitability of marketing to children, it is unlikely that we will see an end to campaigns directed at younger generations.  It is the responsibility of the professionals in the industry to hold each other to a higher ethical standard.

Publish First, Update Later

Lauren McKinzie

In a time where news can spread like wildfire, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are the places to find news fast. But, can these platforms always be trusted to deliver accurate information? The answer is no. Currently, people still trust the big news companies to deliver the truth about a story. The Associated Press and CNN are "slower" than what people may want, but they are accurate. 

Some news sites, in order to keep up with social media, are using a "publish first, update later strategy." But, this strategy does not uphold the RTDNA and PRSA ethical standards. It does not even uphold the RTDNA Social Media and Blogging Guidelines. I think to maintain the integrity of journalism we need uphold the ethical guidelines of journalism. That is what differentiates journalist from everyone else. 

In a journalism study done by Poynter, they found that only 20% of respondents check their facts before publishing. Poynter said, "publish first, correct if necessary is the order of the day." Yet, the public is supposed to rely upon and trust news companies. 
This is where the problem is occurring. The race to get news out as fast as possible is creating a lack in truthfulness and fairness. I think journalist need to go back to the basics and look at the foundation of journalism to realize that faster is not always better. It's accurate and truthful informative news that will keep your audience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When Facebook Goes Too Far

Tess Stevens

Facebook has pretty much taken over our lives. As media professionals we understand and have come to know that it is a tool we can use to spread our ideas, interact on a daily basis and even secure opportunities to better ourselves. But due to the influx of information and the overstimulation we receive from the internet every day its easy to overlook things, especially those little ads that pop up on the side of our newsfeed.

Taking our busy lives into consideration we can often take these ads at face value: a daily annoyance that we take with a grain of salt and move on.

Sometimes ads provide information, or are catered to our interests via the strange social matrix that Facebook has created, but in one strange case, an ad, and thus Facebook being culpable for its content went too far.

According to, a site which showcases big wins and big failures in advertising today,, a Canadian dating site, used photos of a girl who hanged herself as an enticing and playful way to lure visitors to its content. What is even more horrifying, is that Facebook itself, its users and the cruelty of adolescence could have been culpable for her death. She was a victim of cyber bullying on many different online platforms including Facebook.

One of the many ethical questions present here is does Facebook have the right to vet our photos to advertisers? Where is my picture right now? Just because I want to connect with the world doesn't mean I should be subjected to my content being stolen for profit.

                                         View image on Twitter

Where does Facebook draw the line on our private information? The article in Advertising Age goes on to explain that the girl in question was allegedly raped at a party and this may have contributed to her death as well.

The bottom line is that this girl, who hanged herself, was raped at a party, and was cyber bullied wasn't even safe from Facebook's insensitive idea that your pictures, thoughts and postings are now their property. It doesn't matter if you're dead or close to dead you belong to them as soon as you log in.

This might be an overstatement, but the essence is true, your content is property of Facebook once it hits their feed.

Its not just ethicists that have issues with this, its an idea of humanity. The Toronto Star interviewed the girl's parents and its no surprise that they found the ad surprising, disgusting and absolutely disturbing.

Facebook ended up taking action by banning the dating site, but that does not solve the problem: that our ideas are now owned by the internet, and there's nothing we can do to stop it.

For the full article on Advertising Age click here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Candy From a Baby

By Luca Wistendahl
We’ve all heard the expression “taking candy from a baby.” The saying is used to describe a task that’s easy--if not amoral--and if we analyze it, the metaphor is exceedingly clear: it’s easy to exploit children due to their weakness and innocence. Think about it: you’re an adult, and suddenly something possesses you to take candy from a baby. What’s the baby going to do? Successfully prevent you from taking its candy? Doubtful.

No, regardless of the baby’s attempts to fend you off, it’s probably going to end up without candy, and without much understanding of what just happened. I’m using this lengthy analysis of a metaphor to set the stage for a few thoughts on the ethics of advertising to children.

Photo from well.blogs.nytimes
Credit Joyce Hesselberth

The Grasp of "Commercial Intent"

In this study it is shown that children under the age of 12 are incapable of understanding “commercial intent”. To me this is an interesting concept, because it means that advertising directed at children is being written, produced, and disseminated even though much of the intended audience doesn’t understand the purpose of advertising, and is also vulnerable to it.

A Potential for Exploitation?

As it turns out, children are a lucrative audience. According to this page on the American Psychological Association’s (APA) website, children under 12 spend $28 billion a year, and children as a whole evoke another $249 billion in spending from their parents.

So lets assume that advertising on children works. Lets assume that the billions of dollars that are spent by and on behalf of children yearly go, in part, to the companies that advertise to them. Wouldn’t this mean that companies that are aware of the minimum requisite age to understand “commercial intent” (and if I can be made aware of it in 5 minutes and two Google searches, I seriously doubt that any company isn’t aware) are making a profit off an audience who knows no better? To me such a practice sounds like exploitation.

I admit that I’m playing a bit of devil’s advocate here. Honestly, I don’t have a stance on advertising to children, mainly because I’ve never really considered it before researching for this blog post. However, I do find the idea of this lack of understanding of “commercial intent” interesting. It seems to be the use of power by a large entity (or entities) to reap gain from children, much like (you guessed it) taking candy from a baby.

A Potential for Harm?

Exploiting an audience to make a profit is one thing, but when the exploitation causes harm, it quickly becomes a different, much more serious thing. What if the successful advertising to children had negative consequences? This article in the Economist’s website states that Mexican children see more advertisements for junk-food on the television than children in any other country. Mexico also happens suffering from an obesity epidemic, and it is stated in this article that the childhood obesity rate in Mexico has tripled over the past decade.

I’m not asserting that there is any causation to be found between advertising to Mexican children and negative side-effects, but to me the numbers are worrying. At the very least, such figures suggest to me that we should be wary of the power and effectiveness of advertising to children, and the potential harm it can cause.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Mom! I Want That!" Advertising

Elizabeth Harris
In today’s society, it is constantly said that advertising negatively impact our children. Most specifically, many people say commercials tend to sway the desire and wants of the youth. Whether or not it is necessarily true that all commercials geared towards children can have a negative impact of their minds, it is evident that advertising professionals know how to target children to get results.

“Mom! I want that!” 

I can clearly remember seeing commercials as a young child and saying “Mom I want that!” Especially on channels geared toward children like Nickelodeon, advertising professionals strategically place commercials to target children in a way that they will beg their parents to purchase a certain product. This then leads to children constantly feeling like they need to have certain materialistic items because everyone else has it.

For example, when I was a young child (probably around the age of eight) Bratz Dolls were one of the latest craze. During many of the television shows I watched, advertisements for the dolls were constantly playing. Although it is embarrassing to admit, every time I would see one the ads I would plead and plead my mom to buy one for me; all my friends had them so I needed one too. However, due to the sexual connotation the doll gave off, my mom refused to allow me to get a Bratz doll. However, like many parents will end up doing, my mom finally “caved” and allowed me to get my beloved Bratz Dolls due to my constant nagging that was caused by the constant advertising. Situations like this are exactly what advertising professionals hope will happen when targeting children. 
                                                                            Above is a video of including some of the Bratz Doll commercials that led                                                                          many girls, myself included, to immediately ask their parents to purchase the doll.

Advertising Unhealthy Food

One of the most advertised products to children is unhealthy food. According to the American Psychological Association, twenty percent of the youth is over weight.  In addition, children ages eight to eighteen spend forty four and a half hours per week in front of the television, computer, etc; the adverting that they see while on these types of media does not by any mean help the obesity crisis. In fact, fifty percent of the advertisements during children’s programs advertise junk food. Therefore, children constantly see the junk food commercials, leading them to beg their parents to take them to that fast-food place or buy that sugary cereal. Overall, the constant advertising of healthy food can brainwash children into thinking that unhealthy food is the best food.

How to Make a Change

Some parents choose to make a stand and not let their children watch any type of television. This solution is extreme; however, it does keep children away from the negative aspects of advertising.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood’s mission is to “Support parent’s efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing.” Overall, instead of eliminating advertising, they hope to make a change to the advertising practices that target children. A change needs to be made to eliminate the “I want this, I need that” entitlement that faces all children today.                                         

Sex Sells, But Should We Let It?

Jake Zuckerman

Since its inception, albeit more so in the past decade, advertisers have been pushing their messages with reckless abandon for their implications on society.
There is an old saying in advertising: sex sells. This expression appears to have outweighed a less pithy expression in the minds of advertising companies: use good judgment. Advertisers are using some questionable, and some downright inappropriate methods of getting a message to stick. They are embedding sex into their ads by way of phallic and suggestive imagery, regardless of who the viewers are.
Source: Perez Hilton
Just look at this ad from Suit Supply. No, the ad contains no explicit sexual imagery, but what reasonable person could look at this ad and not notice its sexual implications. The ad is a tasteless, shameless way to sell suits, however it seems to be effective. It’s no secret in branding a product that if you can associate it with sex, you are associating a product with a near-universal human desire. But there is a line that the ad may be crossing. What about children who may see this ad? What are they supposed to take from it.
It isn’t just clothing companies weaving their products with lust. Take a look at this ad from Burger King.
Source: Pop Crunch
The prurient nature of the ad’s imagery is overwhelming. Copy aside, the sandwich appears phallic in nature, and the woman’s mouth is a blatant reference toward the act of fellatio. And it doesn’t stop with imagery, just look at the text. “It’ll blow your mind away,” or, “BK Super Seven Incher.” It is absurd to imagine that the words ‘blow,’ or ‘super seven incher,’ were accidentally placed on top of an ad reminiscent of oral sex. Any viewer of the ad will – to some degree – think of sex and a Burger King sandwich.
There are countless more examples. Just check out Business Insider’s coverage on the topic.
The ads raise questions. Are the ads crossing a line, or is there any line to be crossed in the first place? The ads can certainly have chilling effects on viewers. They perpetuate subordinate stereotypes for women and objectify them into men’s sexual objects.
According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are exposed to more than 40,000 television ads. How many sexual ads will it take until the message sticks?
It isn’t just children to whom the ad should warrant some skepticism. Today in America, women’s rights are a hot button issue. Movements like the It’s On Us campaign or the F*ck Rape Culture movement are making demands for more equitable treatment of women – both legally and culturally. A time may come when networks, websites or other platforms running these ads will have to draw a line in the sand. An ethical choice will be made: should the ad be ran? After all, the constitution does protect free speech.
On the other hand, the ads are questionable in taste and there is evidence supporting harmful psychological effects on their viewers. Should companies run the ads or take a stance for better treatment and depiction of women?

These are questions that can’t be answered just yet, but the can will only be kicked down the road so many times until some one demands, if not a change, a fair standard.  

MADvertising: Ethical Issues that Create Controversy

Diana Wiebe
Advertising is an extremely powerful tool that can be used for both good and bad. The series Mad Men is a perfect description of how advertising is highly influential and that sometimes advertisers use fraud, manipulation, and deception to sway the public’s opinion. As Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) said, “Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strikes’ is toasted.” He was referring to his cigarette and tobacco client in the show, and uses the powerful tool of omission when suggesting that their product doesn’t kill, it’s just toasted. 

Image taken from:

When making ethical decisions in advertising, it’s important to be aware of three main problems that can arise. Those three main issues are fraudulent information, disrespectful and deceptive images, and manipulation of the youngest members of our population.
It is a sad fact that people in the advertising industry often do not try their hardest to stop fraudulent information from getting out to the public. According to Alex Kantrowitz, who wrote Digital Ad Fraud Is Rampant: Here's Why So Little Has Been Done About It, “Purging fraudulent impressions from the system would mean higher media prices and lower performance (though more accurate).” It is simply not in the best interest of advertisers and their clients to remove fraudulent information so very few of them do. One man offers a suggestion which is to start with the buyers asking questions from the suppliers of the ads. Curt Hecht, global chief revenue officer at the Weather Company, told Kantrowitz that they should ask, “How are the ads procured? Where are they placed? Where will they run? Where won't they run? Who are the different partners? And what do they do?” By simply asking a few questions, fraudulent information could be stopped.
Another huge problem advertisers must be wary of is producing content that is in poor taste and deceptive to who views the information. A sad case comes from an advertisement for a dating site on Facebook that used a deceased Canadian girl’s photo. The use of her images sparked major controversy because she had been the victim of rape and cyber-bullying and had committed suicide as a result. Simon Dumenco wrote a piece entitled Definitely 'The Worst Facebook Ad Ever' and talks about how advertisers are not being careful enough with where images originate. “The presumably clueless use of Rehtaeh Parsons' photos by such a fly-by-night operation underscores the hazards of Facebook's self-serve advertising business, which assumes a certain level of competence among its users that was obviously lacking in this case,” he says. The only solution to this problem is to closely monitor where images come from and to check on self-serve advertising more in depth as well.
Perhaps one of the longest running issues with advertising is how it affects the youngest members of society-children. Matthew McPartland says in Why We Could be Hurting Children’sFutures: The Ethics of Advertising to Children that, “The amount of media children are exposed to is outrageous. What effect does this have on children? Are all advertising damaging to children? Alcohol, tobacco, and food have clearly made an impact on society, especially with children.” Personally, I know that my girl friends and I were affected by advertisements that tell us exactly how we should act and dress, and how much we should weigh. A majority of parents monitor what their children view, but it is also the advertiser’s job to promote healthy mental and physical habits. They should encourage children to be who they want to be, rather than what the advertiser’s think they should be. 

Image taken from:
Though we live in a world where it can be extremely difficult to stop certain images and messages from getting out, advertisers must still strive for positive, accurate, and respectful content. If all advertisers behaved like Don Draper, the public would receive a lot of information that is harmful to them. Advertisers have an ethical duty to protect anyone who views their ad-whether it be the youngest member of society or the oldest.

Get Back to the Basics

By Jaelynn Grisso

Sponsored content, in all its forms, has been a part of the journalism world long before the term “sponsored content” or “native content” even existed. Publishers rely of advertising profits to maintain their business – i.e. the news – but the role the advertisers play has been shifting.

It is no secret that the largest form of revenue for most publications is advertising, especially considering the consumer base for subscriptions is shrinking. Even so, using sponsored content is not the answer to financial concerns in a field that has never been particularly lucrative.

Yet, the question of if sponsored content should be used seems to have been entirely replaced by how sponsored content should be used. When did we stop questioning if this was ethical? Perhaps it was around the time big companies began using it, because there is an underlying assumption that if they’re doing it, then it must be acceptable.

Regardless of when the question stopped being asked, it needs to start being asked again. As journalists, we cannot blindly accept a practice which compromises the integrity of our entire field and fosters an even deeper mistrust in the media. Sponsored content, by its very nature, is misleading and only aims to fulfill an agenda without the transparency needed when promoting an agenda. Readers are largely apathetic about reading materials that are designed to persuade them, so long as they are aware that is the purpose.

And as for the revenue, I fully understand that sponsored content can be highly profitable. But at what price ethically? Is it worth compromising the journalistic integrity of an entire publication in order to make a little extra? No; integrity should always come first. The intersection of the news industry and the business world should remain nothing more than an unfortunate necessity and should not begin dictating what content is being produced. As soon as advertisers enforce editorial control, the editorial authority of a publication will be entirely undermined. 

That being said, it is not an all or nothing issue. Some publications could utilize sponsored content without undermining their credibility because of the type of content they regularly produce. For example, BuzzFeed frequently produces materials that are similar to their sponsored content without the sponsor. So if they are producing the same type of material, why not get paid for it? Then which publications shouldn't use sponsored content? Major news publications (or networks) that do hard news. The type of content is so different that it is obvious the publication is only doing it for the money. 

We need to gain back the trust of our readers. Can that happen with every publication using sponsored content? Absolutely not. 

Where are the Priorities?

Carter Eckl

Click-bait, everyone's favorite source of 'news' without actually supplying any news.

Sure, the process and brain power it took to create such advertisements are fascinating but is it really helping anyone?

Now, some of the ads and pages may not be directly created as 'click-bait' they are essentially headlines and pictures driven to get 'clicks' without present new or useful news to people.


One common name that I've seen throughout other blogs is probably the most obvious of the bunch, in the sports world. To put it bluntly, SportsCenter/ESPN headlines characters that they can use to stir up debate and rile on people emotions. The news side of their entire production, whether that be television or webpage, has simply been pushed onto the back burner and has lost a significant amount of priority.

Here is a perfect example of that mentality used by SportsCenter:

I would not waste your time watching the entirety of this video but it is 10 minutes of an interview with a famous rapper who has been partying with victorious teams. That's it.

Meanwhile, there is a little orange box in the top left hand corner that says developing news that actually contains injury information which has more news value than the interview they are conducting.

The Power of Recognition

I would love to continue to blame ESPN for their poor example of news but, its getting views. People are spotting things that make them want to click. If these powerful organization can place a video icon of a famous rapper on their screens, they are probably going to get some clicks. If the public sees a face or a team they know, they are going to be much more likely to click on that particular article.

This has clearly been used in both ways as there are some very powerful pictures out there attached to stories but, the recent trend has been to post a picture that will get attention rather than necessarily make it about the content inside the article.

Something's Gotta Give, Right?

One place you find a lot of these images are on blogs that are simply competing for views. The "sponsored content" or "native" advertising that is beginning to sprout all over the place has clearly become an issues since the ASME felt compelled to release new guidelines.

Another one of the common websites you find "sponsored content" is BuzzFeed. Also, previously mentioned in a lot of other blogs, BuzzFeed is the first true 'click-bait' website that comes to my mind whenever this argument arises. I cannot even begin to imagine how many different articles/ads/etc. are posted on that one website just for the sole purpose of advertising.

Such as the entire left side of the home page that has neatly listed 14 different articles that all start with the notion of  "# of Things You....."

I mean what are the odds of the same thing being true, when anyone else visits to their website:

In the end, the advertisements and ways these websites are able to reach so many people is kind of incredible. There is definitely good types of advertising that can be created around the ideas behind 'click-bait' but its clearly advertising at the end of the day. Real news is something that needs to be pushed back onto the burner by finding creative ways to not be misleading.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Enough Never Is

Charlie Hatch

Is content more important than the audience?

That's a question many journalists and media outlets struggle with as the industry continues to develop every day. 

Sure, the primary goal for a journalist is to produce timely content, full of facts and free from errors. But what if that means reporting on the same subject over and over and over? 

Perhaps one of the easiest places to find media outlets constantly repeating the same information is in sports media.

ESPN and SportsCenter

SportsCenter isn't the same anymore.

It was the show providing the best sports coverage in terms of highlights, analysis and some debate. 

If there were 12 NFL games on the day before, the Monday morning show would showcase all the match ups, provide a minute of highlights and a few cliches thrown in by news anchors, followed by a break down of why each game mattered.

Yet somewhere in the last few years, ESPN has slowly begun to change their premier show, manipulating the content to present news the most amount of people want to hear. 

In the past, SportsCenter would've produced highlights for just about any professional football game, even if it featured two lowly-franchises such as the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. the Oakland Raiders. And that was the status quo.

Fast forward to 2014 and the outlet may produce a segment about the topics such as back up quarterbacks, like Cleveland's Johnny Manziel, who has absolutely no impact on the game's outcome, but his face will result in discussion and debate.

Wherever Lebron James goes, whether it be Cleveland or Miami, ESPN has followed his every move with cameras and and twitter accounts eager to produce the latest event in the basketball player's life.

In essence, ESPN is providing content that isn't news, but it's something that will get eyes on the screen or clicks on social media. 

Bleacher Report

Bleacher Report started out a blog for fans (bleacher journalist/bloggers). Now, the website has become a juggernaut in sports media and recently became the second-most visited sports site in the U.S., only trailing ESPN. 

The sports site, along with fan blog SB Nation, have become the premier examples of producing content lacking any true news value in an effort for hits.

Click on any team the site has a writer for and it immediately becomes apparent that the journalist who wrote the story doesn't have direct access to the team and gets their news from other sources. 

There has been improvement from writers on the site as it's popularity continues to soar, but it still lacks the power a traditional news organization has. 

And then there's the British

Source: Daily Mail (UK)

The British press is often overlooked by Americans, probably because of the obvious ocean separating the two nations. 

In the United Kingdom, the style of writing is completely different from than in the U.S., with different sorts of ethical dilemmas (reporters are openly fans of a team). 

But the thing that makes its press stand out the most is its ability to flip-flop and become hypocritical with any football (soccer) story.

One day, the press is honest and admits there are flaws in the English game. On another day, those exact reporters might say England has what it takes to win the FIFA World Cup, without any proper argument to justify such claims. 

While it can never be proven, the press practically drove soccer player and Italian-international Mario Balotelli out of England. After a few years in Italy, it demanded "Super Mario" return to England. And then he did, only for the bashings to continue. 

It's not ethical, but it gets the hits and ultimately helps the organization producing the content. It keeps journalists on beats and an income. 

And that's the dilemma every journalist faces before they hit publish. 

Ethical Concerns Behind Posting Sponsored Content

Hannah Haseman

What is sponsored content?                                                                         
Also known as branded content, “native advertising” or “content marketing,” sponsored content, is as its name suggests, content that is sponsored by an advertiser. Sponsored content allows editorial content to have a way to be paid for while at the same time getting the sponsor’s message out. However, sponsored content creates a gray area in the field of ethics.  Although ASME updated their editorial guidelines for sponsored content, not all are strictly adhering to them.  What’s important is to keep in mind certain elements to consider when it comes to sponsored content.

How is sponsored material presented?                                
The sponsored content needs to be presented to the audience in a way that makes it clear that it is paid for, while at the same time distinguishing that everything the organization publishes is not exclusively paid for propaganda. If readers think this is the case, then the publication will lose some of their audience.

This also presents an issue of mistrust. If the sponsored content is presented in a way that is trying to pass as editorial content so the reader will not be able to tell the difference, then the reader begins to mistrust the publication. They might begin to think everything that is published is some disguised marketing content, as opposed to genuine editorial content.

However, it is important that the publication’s sponsored content reflect its values. The content should not appear to be trying to disguise the fact it’s not editorial content, but it should still “fit in” to the style and theme of the publication. BuzzFeed does sponsored content in just this way. They encourage advertisers to post their content in the same funny, edgy style as BuzzFeed’s other content. BuzzFeed establishes that the content is sponsored, but doesn’t try to “hard sell” it to the reader. It makes sure the content is still similar to the content its consumers are visiting the site for. In one of BuzzFeed’s sponsored pieces, The19 Most Ridiculous Texting Fails, Virgin Mobile presents their content in the same manner and style as BuzzFeed’s general content, without promoting their brand in the content itself. It’s still identified as sponsored content, but it doesn’t try to fool the reader or bombard it with a sales pitch; it tailors to its audience.

As Virgin Mobile did with its sponsored content on BuzzFeed, establishing the content as sponsored is especially important with it comes to the ethics of sponsored content. It needs to be clear that the content is sponsored, and not shrouded in an editorial mystique. Simply changing the font or layout is not good enough. It needs to be stated in words that the piece is a sponsored one so as not to provide incentive for mistrust. 
BuzzFeed makes it clear who has sponsored the content without making the content itself an advertisement. Photo from BuzzFeed. 

It’s similarly important to allow for reader comments on the sponsored piece. By removing negative comments, it prompts the reader to really feel the content is purely an advertisement and one with an agenda, at that. If the publication’s editorial content does not filter its reader feedback, the advertisement should not as well. Just because it’s bought and paid for content, does not mean it shouldn’t receive both positive and critical feedback.

Sponsored content is ethically tricky for publications to post without creating mistrust with its audience. Publications need to always bear in mind key components when they post sponsored content so the reader does not feel they are being misled or hoodwinked in any way. This will help make the gray area a little more black and white.