That is because this is an advertising-supported publication. All the editorial matter contained herein is sponsored. So if you were to put a little yellow label above this piece that says “Sponsored Content” you would be conveying exactly zero information.
But what if this were not a column but an advertorial -- so-called native advertising? Aha! Putting that “Sponsored Content” label above it would convey… zero information. Because, once again, all the material contained herein is sponsored. Only the illusion of disclosure would have taken place, rather like putting a label on strychnine that says “Contains Molecules.”
Which, of course, is why publishers have alighted on “Sponsored Content” and the equally unilluminating “From around the web” as the terminology for labeling native. The whole point is they disclose nothing. Which, in turn, tells you everything you need to know about the industry rhetoric invoked to justify the unjustifiable. As the oracle foretold, once inside the walls of Troy, the big horse is a vessel of mischief.
The latest wrinkle in this pathetic saga, courtesy of the competition, is a 4000-word manual for native advertising in Conde Nast titles. I have not seen this document, which I grant you is remarkable for merely existing; others in the business have for obvious reasons been fearful of leaving a paper trail. But the key fact is, nobody requires 4000 words to regulate this practice. If you wish to run advertising that could be mistaken for editorial content, the advertising must be prominently labeled: “This is an ad.”
There. That was easy -- and with 3977 words to spare!
Now if that simple rule were universally adopted, the native-advertising segment would quickly disappear, because hardly anyone would bother to read, much less click through, much less share a fake article -- the very reason advertisers want to camouflage their ads as editorial content to begin with. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar or delusional.
“I am a retired investor living on a pension.” – Hyman Roth, fictional Mafia kingpin
“We want to help brands create great content that people actually find interesting and useful, and if we do that right, then it should be crystal clear that a brand was involved.” – James Del, Gawker(Yes, yes. I know. Some branded content is perfectly worthy in its own right -- an obvious fact that itself in no way justifies a masquerade. If the content is so wonderful, the advertiser should want its fingerprints – and logo – all over it. But the advertiser doesn’t want its fingerprints on it, any more than Rocco Lampone wanted his prints on the gun that killed Hyman Roth.)
As it happens, Rocco quickly got his comeuppance when the Miami police, too, came out blasting. Likewise, I am delighted to report that two weeks ago the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus roundly rejected the absurd defense offered by the “content”-linkage outfit Taboola that it was “clear and conspicuous” in identifying its “Around the Web” and “Recommended for You” links as ads. It is just plain sleazy to send readers to a site implying that editorial is on the other end, but dispatching them instead to bottom-feeder advertisers -- and the NAD, in somewhat more circumspect language, agreed. I’d like to imagine this is an omen of a forthcoming uncompromising FTC policy and enforcement action.
Alas, my mom warned me not to wish my life away. Right after she told me not to believe everything I read.