In the not-so-distant past the line between editorial and advertising was more like a wall. Journalists were literally forbidden to speak with the sales team and marketers. Marketing messages that looked like articles were clearly marked as “advertorials” or identified as advertising messages.
The current situation is quite different. First, product placements in movies, TV broadcasts and even live performances put products in prominent view within the context of a broader message often in a way that made it appear to be organic. Then the explosion of the Internet and proliferation of online sources for news and entertainment turned the old wall into a blurred line. Marketers have often become “publishers” with the reader unaware that the information they are consuming isn’t just information…it is brand promotion.
With pressure on publishers to drive traffic and get new users more resources are applied to audience valuation than content creation. Marketers are invited to work with editorial staff in unprecedented and alarming ways. The New York Times created T Brand Studio, the staff of which works between journalists and advertisers to craft “branded” articles online. Similarly, The Washington Post created an online feature called Sponsored Views that invites organizations to post commentary related to or in response to content from the newspaper’s Opinion section.
This is a clear and present danger for online publishers and social media platforms. If their content is not seen as credible at can be attacked and become harmful to the publisher. Think “fake news.” To maintain credibility and avoid criticism publishers must seek ways to make sure readers are not tricked into reading a promotional message they think is news.
Publishers know they need to police themselves and solutions are being developed and used. Forbes created AdVoice, content that allows advertisers to contribute but is clearly identified as sponsor-based to the reader understands the source and is better able to determine how the information is used. Some publishers are considering quarterly reports in print and online that disclose the terms of their deals with advertisers. Others are developing teams comprised of editorial, sales, marketing, PR and legal staff to evaluate content before it is published. On the marketing side of the equation it is incumbent upon advertisers to be transparent in their content messaging or risk losing the very audience they are trying to attract.
For the good of content providers and marketers alike, let’s re-build the wall (no…not THAT wall…just the wall between editorial and marketing).