Have you ever turned on the TV to watch the news and found yourself asking: Is this really a headline? Well, there is an ever-increasing chance it may be sponsored content dressed up as real news.
Private enterprises have always made significant financial contributions to the media industry, with advertising revenue being the key driver of traditional and new media revenue streams. But what is becoming concerning for many is the way in which these ads are being framed and delivered.
What is Native Advertising?
Native advertising, a specific ‘delivery mechanism’ of branded content to consumers, is being seen as one of the most effective and profitable methods of advertising in the digital age. But is it ethical? Unlike traditional forms of branded content, native advertising is intended to ‘camouflage’ ads in editorial content. And it must be working, with a report indicating 74% of advertising revenue will come from native advertising by 2021.
How Does it Work?
The big question is: Why are consumers buying into this form of branded content? Is it delivering a targeted and engaging experience or are the less informed being duped into buying products from supposedly trustworthy news outlets? Considering a study from IAB found only 41% of consumers could identify advertising in ‘general news’ media, and marketers saw significantly greater engagement with an increase in publisher credibility, it is likely some consumers are making purchase decisions based on the perceived authority and trustworthiness of news outlets.
In an age where the phrases ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ are becoming somewhat common language, it is not difficult to see how native advertising could be eroding the foundation of the fourth estate. This is especially true when you have people like Joseph Ripp, the CEO of Time Inc., saying he no longer considers the separation of church and state. Essentially, we have reached the point where consumers have become savvy to traditional forms of advertising, rendering them ineffective and unprofitable. In a bid to remain relevant, native advertising seems the only option for many forms of traditional media.
So where do we go for unbiased, impartial news content; the 6 o’clock news? Unfortunately, the commercial TV stations are also feeling the pinch of the digital age. In a bid to increase ratings, they appear to be opting for sensationalism, native advertising and shameless self-promotion. Prime-time news coverage of reality TV show, My Kitchen Rules, is just one example of this.
I wonder if Channel 9 found My Kitchen Rules to be worthy of coverage? Apparently not, but they have suddenly discovered sites like Gumtree and Ebay are a great way to make tax-free cash and unlock discounts!
All jokes aside, commercial television is just that, media corporations that have commercial interests. Of course these channels are going to use cross-programming and cross-promotional techniques to boost viewership and sponsorship opportunities. However, news and journalism should be more than just ratings. It should focus on maintaining an informed public sphere, without an undue influence from government or private enterprise.
But Wait, There is Good News!
Up until recently, native advertising was largely seen to be an expression of free speech and legislators have been apprehensive to impose restrictions on this kind of content. However, as of 1 March 2017, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics will be updated to ensure:
- The Advertising Standards Board (ASB) will be able to make straightforward rulings on consumer complaints.
- Stricter punishment for advertisers who do not modify or discontinue misleading advertising.
- The introduction of a Best Practice Guideline for Clearly Distinguishable Advertising.
So clearly Australia is taking the right steps to ensure sponsored content is adequately regulated in commercial media. But even more surprising, there are already news bulletins that have no sponsored content; if you could be bothered to switch over to ABC or SBS. Yes, they still exist!