John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight tackles the sticky subject of paid editorial
Known for his stand up comedy and his political work on satirical news show The Daily Show, British-born comedian John Oliver laid into the whole idea behind native advertising in a YouTube video for his HBO programme Last Week Tonight.
Why do you care? Well, it’s gotten nearly 2 million views online already, and it brings up a very sticky issue about how it really feels like marketers are just trying to deceive the public. However, he does say how it’s customers’ fault for why this sorry state of affairs has come about, after all, in the US only 0.17 per cent of people click through on banner advertising shown on sites – essentially proving that it’s almost a complete waste of money to drive traffic.
“Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise, we will camouflage your ads to make them look like news stories,” Ken Auletta, contributor to The New Yorker, is shown saying. “That’s essentially it.”
Oliver follows up the video quote from Auletta by saying “That’s essentially it? Are you saying that to sum up your point on native advertising, or are you describing independent journalism?”
He also points out that it’s such a lucrative way for marketers and publications to work together that entire sites base their business model on it.
While that may not be surprising for you or I, who both work rather regularly in the marketing space, it calls into question just how attentive people are about the matter (read: not very) and are thus shocked to find out that some of their favourite pieces lately on Buzzfeed have been little more than an advert.
The issue Oliver is getting at isn’t really that native advertising exists, it’s more the mixing of marketers and reputable journalists and blurring the line of editorial integrity. It’s more worrying that the head of publications like TIME aren’t bothered by such implications. And despite his protests in the video, research shows that less than half of readers know that they’re actually reading advertising.
Surely this means the marketing industries new favourite way to promote products could start to face some form of regulation to ensure people know that it’s trying to sell a product?
But, perhaps, the problem isn’t really native advertising, perhaps it’s how brands and businesses are approaching it. Perhaps it can be used as a tool of engagement and information sharing that inspires brand confidence, instead of shelling goods to consumers.
Still, John Oliver is utterly hilarious in his deconstruction of an entire arm of modern marketing.
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