August 28, 2014 by newsgetting
I’ve been fortunate, maybe. For most of my career people have framed the expression “creative solution” within air quotes. They indicated that we’re all adults here and, let’s be honest, what we’re really talking about is an advertorial. It probably won’t be the same for journalism graduates coming off the production line this summer, many of whom will enter a world where advertorial may be the only kind of orial they’re called on to produce. They may call it sponsored content, native advertising or whatever new form of words the indefatigable weasel can come up with but it will amount to much the same thing. Running content that you wouldn’t otherwise run because somebody is paying for it.
Behold, now even the New York Times is being forced by straitened times to open its editorial pages to people it would prefer to keep at the tradesmen’s entrance. And, like a PG Wodehouse peer reduced to selling soap, it is engaged in a struggle to maintain the size and design of its agreed fig leaf. Advertising Age has noted with glee that in recent weeks the Grey Lady has reduced the labels that distinguish the articles placed on its site at the behest of advertisers from those which arose from the newsroom.
At the same time it’s taken steps to make the language announcing them less explicit. Where this once might have read “paid for and posted by Acme Widgets”, it now reads “paid post”, which is rather different. You get the feeling that if they could further disguise the words with a simultaneous clearing of the throat and the words “Look! Over there!” they would do. These are not the actions of a media brand tickled pink to be running “paid posts” from Chevron, Dell and the watchmaker Vacheron.
I’m always fascinated by how watchmakers get into editorial pages. Theirs is a product with a massive profit margin that absolutely nobody in their right mind is ever interested in reading about. Boy, do they need creative solutions. Contrast that with the film trailers that even the most sober news providers have no qualms about running in their bulletins because they know people love seeing them.
I’m sure some senior person at the Times will be trotted out to make an emollient statement about the importance of readers being able to tell the difference between editorial and sponsored content and if things are clearly labelled there’s really nothing to see here so why not move along? Yet behind the scenes you just know that there will have been bitter struggles about the exact shade of pale blue used in the bar that supposedly fences off the editorial, anddecisions about leaving the advertiser’s name off the disclaimer will probably have been taken quite high up.
Whenever publishing’s grand panjandrums lay down their policy for how to keep their “commercial partners” at arm’s length they predict that cool heads are bound to prevail and suppose that both parties will be able to come to an agreement which achieves most of the advertiser’s goals without damaging the host brand. But when these decisions are actually thrashed out on the ground there’s a deadline breathing down everyone’s neck, the advertising manager has already banked the revenue and any middle-ranking employee risks getting the wrong sort of reputation if they suggest walking away from the cash. Back in the 80s on Smash Hits we once told an advertiser to re-do an entire creative execution because it contained a word we didn’t like. They did it. But that won’t happen again. Nowadays only one person will get their own way and it’s the one with the chequebook.
When thinking of native advertising it helps to keep before us the story often told about Winston Churchill. He asked the grand lady next to him if she would sleep with him for a million pounds. She said she’d think about it. He then asked if she would do it for a fiver. She asked what kind of woman he took her for. We’ve already established that, madam, he said, we’re simply negotiating about the price.
Mind you, given what we know about his pecuniary attitude to journalism, we can be pretty certain he would have taken the advertiser’s money. Having done that he would have taken the opportunity to “upsell” them with a “site takeover” package on winston.com.
By David Hepworth (The Guardian)