Thursday, October 29, 2015
Ethics in Native Advertising
Can you tell the difference between an ad and an article? If not, don't worry; you're not the only one. Sponsored content, also called native advertising, is the promotion of products and services disguised as an article, and it is taking over many news websites and blogs. In fact, it's hard to find a news website that doesn't run sponsored content. It seems everyone, from to CNN, uses articles to advertise for sponsors. These articles have been used to promote television shows, beauty products, contact lenses, and even Scotch tape. This practice isn't new, and it definitely isn't going anywhere; but what about the ethics of it all?
As an aspiring writer, I have been searching for internships for a few months. (Don't worry; this isn't sponsored content to sell my brand.) Specifically, I am searching for a blog writing or copywriting internship. The problem, though, is that each time I attend an interview for either of these, the job turns out to be exactly the same. My potential employers want someone to write ad articles, promoting their products/services (usually some sort of subscription website), and disguise them as helpful articles, from someone who has tried the service, about ways to help college students survive until they graduate.
While I don't have a problem with writing ads, I do have an issue with pretending I'm trying to help someone, when all I really want is to sell something. I also have a problem with pretending an ad is actually a news article. It's deceptive; it makes me feel dirty; and it ends with my words being used to manipulate impressionable minds.
What can we do about it? It is up to us as readers to ensure that we do our part. We must always be aware of what we are reading. Though it is hard to tell, at first, if what you're reading is an ad or an article, there are ways to recognize native advertising. We must question everything and do our own research. Search the internet to try to find instances of the website you are reading posting native advertising articles. Before you allow an article to sell you something, look for fine print at the beginning and end of the article to see if it states anywhere that you are reading sponsored content.
As writers, we must remember that ethics in writing and advertising is equally as important as selling our sponsors' products or services. Always state that an article is an ad, if it is one, and name the sponsor. We should treat our readers like critical thinkers. Write high-quality copy, but allow them to decide for themselves if the product is right for them. Yes, the world is changing; we should change with it, but always for the better. In short, if you feel as if you are being dishonest, you probably are.