Advertising is Journalism
There’s a reason why advertising is in the school of journalism at Ohio University. Advertisers’ only motive is not just to sell their product, but also to tell a story and have consumers connect with their brand – just as a journalist would.
From transitioning from newspaper and magazine journalism to advertising, I understand the threat to journalists as storytelling ads may begin to take over their online content. Banner ads and cube ads are a dead art, in my opinion, and I’ve dreaded having to design them as I delve into this business. They are a nuisance and no one pays attention to them. I’m excited to see how sponsored content will shape the Internet, although I do agree that it isn’t fair to journalists. As I still write for a blog and a magazine, I would hate to have an advertisement take over my story. I don’t wish to see journalism die, but there are right and wrong ways to go about publishing sponsored content.
Is it Ethical?
PRSA posed that sponsored content is not always ethical, which I can agree with. “If everything that you publish is paid propaganda, then your readership will dwindle to near zero, and it will happen quickly.” Marketed content can easily be overlooked as an editorial. Forbes is an example of a publisher that emphasizes sponsored posts. They make it clear by labeling sponsored content with "BrandVoice" at the top next to the marketer's logo, including a line of text that says "Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience" and a "What is this?" link that readers can click for a fuller explanation. Transparency is key.
Here’s an example of sponsored content on Forbes.
| An example of how Forbes highlights sponsored content |
PRSA also suggested to “allow for real reader comments, like those found on news and opinion pieces. Don’t edit or remove the negative ones only because someone bought and paid for the content.” Advertisers don’t always get a lot of feedback from consumers, and I think this would aid in that.
What’s most important about sponsored content is that it needs to reflect the publication's values. For example, if BuzzFeed posted the above article from Forbes on their website, it would be extremely out of place.
Effective Use of Sponsored Content
Speaking of BuzzFeed, Poynter laid out an example of how BuzzFeed encourages advertisers to not write about themselves, but to put their content into BuzzFeed’s style: “fun” and “grabby.” The 19 most ridiculous text fails is an article sponsored (and clearly stated at the top where a byline would be) by Virgin Mobile, a cell phone company. The article is in BuzzFeed’s format, and it is something BuzzFeed's readers would expect to read. These text fails happen on a phone, however Virgin is never mentioned within the article. I think that was a smart move on Virgin’s part, and an effective collaboration with BuzzFeed.
As long as there is a clear divide, I think sponsored content can help shape advertising and journalism. It has its place, though. Sponsored content can help provide more information about a brand. I think sponsored content can be helpful to journalism in taking readers to other stories they may be interested in.