Undercover selling: Blurred editorial lines weaken trust
Staff Reporters on Dec 10, 2012
MEDIA DEBATE: Promotional editorial
content and ‘native advertising’ initiatives are increasingly
prevalent. Yet in striving to refine paid media, do brands ultimately
risk devaluing earned media?
L-R: Sandhu, Hoffman, Pena
Regional director, media, Southeast Asia
Harnessing the power of earned media and
using it to a brand’s advantage takes some guile. The product and the
category have a huge part to play in how successfully the brand can
exploit this space.
In print media, the fact that luxury and
automotive brands are aspirational is reason enough for the brand to be
the cover story without any ad dollar investment. For other categories
of products that are not as interesting, a reasonable amount of ad
dollar investment is expected in return for editorial support.
The contention that readers will be
sceptical of all brand-related content they read is not without basis,
but we must also remember that readers buy publications to be informed
and entertained. And while commercial viability is essential to a
publication, I would think it is safe to assume that journalistic
integrity is very much alive today in the publishing world.
The Hoffman Agency
As long as content is useful to the
person seeking it, I don’t think people really care. But they do care
when media companies try to trick them. Sometimes the lines between
editorial and paid content blur too much. Take Yahoo’s news portal: you
might have a block of legitimate editorial content and then a piece of
content with the same format and typeface that is paid.
I shouldn’t pick on Yahoo because other
major media properties do similar things; the point is, it’s a slippery
slope. If you encroach on trust, you risk losing it and might never get
When it comes to online media, the rules
of the game are being invented as we go along. Look at how content gets
syndicated: I would not be surprised if we start seeing companies
syndicating their own stories to publications or companies filling
their owned media with syndicated storied from publications. Many
companies have already cut out the middle man by hiring ex journalists.
One of the things on my to-do-list is to understand the nature of
content Buzzfeed is doing: what amounts to journalism on behalf of
clients that is then placed as sponsored content in different media
Paul John Pena
Chief digital officer
Leo Burnett Manila
The line between paid and earned media
is growing increasingly blurred as bloggers, politicians, journalists
and even student-leaders are tapped to become brand advocates. When
bloggers are paid to post in favour of a brand or product, the tweets
and posts are often crafted to sound really natural.
Moral issues arise when others do not
know that these are paid ads. While the general public is getting more
sophisticated in seeing through insincere recommendations, brands risk
undermining their followers if they’re known to have a bunch of paid
The best way for brands to approach this
space is by engaging with customers who already really love the brand
and incentivise them to share more — as long as the conversations are
authentic and the product is good. Incentives don’t have to be in the
form of cash; they could be invitations to private events or meetings.
When brands consult with these advocates, the advocates feel part of
the brand and they also gain bragging rights.