What is sponsored Content?
Sponsored content, content marketing or native advertising are terms that relate to this new form of advertising that has everyone's panties in a bunch. Jeff Sonderman wrote an article for Poynter named, How news organizations can sell sponsored content without lowering their standards. Sonderman described how sponsored content is made at BuzzFeed. Every ad campaign that is featured on BuzzFeed is put together by a team that will shape the ad to BuzzFeed's audience. It is extremely interesting how much of an investment BuzzFeed puts fourth towards such a controversial advertising form. The controversy for sponsored content is the possible deception of what content is which? What content is an advertisement and what is the content you actually came to the website for or bought a magazine to read?
What is valued?
Transparency is the value Sonderman points out as the most important value for sponsored content. "The reader deserves to know not only that this is sponsored content, but what role the sponsors played in shaping the content. Did the sponsors write it themselves? Did you write it but they reviewed it before publishing? Or did they have no control and just want to associate their brand with the content?" I agree with Sonderman. Transparency is key in sponsored content. The reader does not want to be fooled thinking they are reading content from BuzzFeed when it is really an ad promoting a certain brand that looks like BuzzFeed. I also agree that their should be distinguishing marks for sponsored content. I interned over the summer for the marketing department of a cleaning products manufacture. I aided in the production of an advertorial and we had based the ad off the content style of the magazine that we were issuing the advertisement for. We used the content as a template but it was not a copy of the editorial. We labeled our advertisement as an advertorial and made clear distinctions that our ad was an advertisement and not the magazine's content. However, we styled the advertisement very similar to the magazine. I understand now how this form of advertising can be deceptive and a strong code of ethics is needed.
The beloved Captain Barbossa from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl has a wonderful saying about codes. "The code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules." The site AdvertisingAge had an insightful article called, ASME Releases Tighter Guidelines on Magazines' Native Advertising, Some Magazines Aren't in Compliance With New Rules. The article emphasizes the importance of distinguishing sponsored content from editorials. ASME's rules are extremely important in the magazine industry. Violation of said rules may exclude a magazine from society's National Magazine Awards. There is a striking quote from the article said by a man named Mr. Holt of ASME, "We're not law givers. We're articulating best practices for the industry for magazine editors. We do feel very strongly that a self-regulating industry should follow these guidelines." Captain Barbossa has a point. People do choose what they publish and what they do not publish. The determining factor of this new age advertising will be the morals and the upholding of a certain code of ethics to keep honesty within these advertisements.
The New York Times has an article named, Storytelling Ads May Be Journalism's New Peril. Joe McCambley was interviewed and he had helped design the first ever banner ad. He said in the article, "How do I know who made the content I am looking at and what the value of the information is?" I think this is the question every advertiser and editor should ask. Transparency is crucial for the digital age and journalism must survive and service democracy. Hopefully, people are instilled with a strong code of ethics and do what is right.