Sony's New Campaign Ruffles More Feathers
Yesterday, it was reported that Nytimes.com rejected Sony's new online campaign because it blurred the line between advertising and editorial content. MDN has learned that CBSMarketWatch also rejected the ad.
The campaign, called Feature by Sony, consists of feature articles by customers explaining how they've used Sony products, such as digital cameras. The articles appear on the sites as if they are regular news stories, with links to Sony sites, where readers can get more information and buy the products.
This blurring of editorial and ad content is objectionable, especially to news sites with high editorial standards. A Nytimes.com spokeswoman says, "We were not able to agree on a program that meets our acceptability guidelines. We stipulate that advertising content has to be clearly labeled. They had different options for labeling." In fact, the ad as it appears at Nationalgeographic.com is labeled "feature by Sony" at the top of the article, but isn't identified as advertising.
Scott McLernon, vice president of sales at CBSMarketWatch, says it "crosses the line between church and state. There's not enough differentiation that allows our readers to know what they're reading. Our editors looked at the campaign and it was clear to us there was not enough differentiation."
The campaign for Sony is a major undertaking, appearing on 35 of the top 50 sites, according to a Sony spokeswoman. "Traditional banners weren't getting us anywhere," she said. "This advances it a couple of notches." The campaign runs on sites that reach six different demographics--families, Gen Y, young professionals, zoomers (retirees), soho (small office home office) and alphas and betas (early adopters and retail customers). Ten sites for each group have been selected, with most of them running the ads, the spokeswoman says. She wouldn't say whether any other sites refused them.
McLernon lauded the campaign as an innovative one, while explaining why CBSMarketWatch couldn't accept it. Both Nytimes.com and CBSMarketWatch have run ads for Sony before. "We have a very good relationship with both sides, the agency (Universal McCann) and the client," McLernon says.
Blurring advertising and editorial content is a long-standing issue that impacts all media. "If they had tried to do it in the print world, there wouldn't even be a story, because it's so obvious you clearly label it as advertising," says Bill McCloskey, founder/CEO of Emerging Interest. "It goes to the weakness of the online ad market that advertisers and agencies think they can push it."
But McCloskey also says the ads can work on entertainment and lifestyle sites that don't have the same strict editorial standards as the big news sites. "There is room for content that is put together as advertising and packaged to editors who need to fill content. It happens all over," he says.
Martha Stone, co-director of the Online News Association, sees the Web as a medium that is "all about integration and convergence, so there are many opportunities to integrate marketing and advertising messages."
But, she says, "it is absolutely not appropriate to integrate them. You run the risk of confusing the audience as to where the message is coming from. If they find out you're sending marketing messages in editorial disguise there's long term damage to your credibility. We're not trying to tie the hands of publishers so they don't make money, but we have to be upfront about what is advertising and what is editorial."