Dear Sergey Denisenko, Chief Executive Officer, MGID:
In your attempted takedown of HBO's John Oliver for his very funny takedown of native advertising, you made a number of interesting points I feel compelled to challenge, on the grounds that they are self-serving horseshit. You addressed, for instance, the blurring of “church and state” by advertising disguised as editorial content.
You wrote: If unscrupulous editors are placing advertorials as news, and not labeling them as such, then certainly that needs to stop and is against already well-established FTC advertorial regulations that manage our media.
However, here's where you are wrong: Native advertising is not sponsored content made to look like news. You claim that publishers are blurring the line between news and advertising and are not clearly labeling native ads as such, when in fact they are.
Perhaps I am missing your point due to unfamiliarity with advertising jargon, but when you say “is not” advertising made to look like news, did you mean “obviously and emphatically is?” Also, in my world “in fact” means “the truth is.” That’s why I’m perplexed, because the fact is that native advertising as it is normally delivered is less clearly labeled than the average car-lease offer. The ad usually appears in the same typeface as the surrounding editorial, it employs the same headline treatment, it is not demarcated by borderlines -- visual differentiation historically enforced on print advertorials -- and the wording of the actual disclaimer tends to be some vague term like “sponsored content.”
Tell me, Sergey, precisely which article in an advertiser-supported publication is not sponsored content? Here's a crazy idea! Why not get rid of the label coined intentionally to be ambiguous, and replace it with something a little clearer? Like, say, oh…I dunno…”advertisement.”
Rhetorical question. The answer is: because that suppresses clicks. Native exists for the sole reason that nobody ever clicks on regular ads.
It is true, a number of publishers -- notably The New York Times -- are very scrupulous about disclosure. I hereby offer my right kidney to you or your assigns the very first month The New York Times native ad click-through rate exceeds the industry average. That will never happen, of course, because academic research shows that the click-through on native is a direct result of reader ignorance and confusion.
And never mind the fake recommendation engines typically labeled “From Around the Web” -- which suggests editorial curation but instead is usually just clickbait to ad sleaze.
Am I to understand that you are proud of this conspiracy of deception? Sergey, this scandalous behavior is not limited to unscrupulous publishers. What John Oliver skewered is the industry standard -- which you rationalize in two thoroughly appalling ways.
You said: As an industry we are thrilled that, at last, we've found a balance between what a publisher needs to do to "keep the lights on," what the advertisers need to communicate, and what audiences are keen to engage around.
Let’s look at the latter assertion first. Yes, there has been some wonderful, interesting and authoritative content produced by native advertisers. How does that justify the deceit in getting people to consume it? (Also rhetorical). If the content is so worthy, you’d think advertisers would be delighted to slap their logo all over it. But they don’t. Why? See boldfaced passage above.
As for the “keep the lights on” argument, that goes beyond appalling well into immoral. The end of saving publishers businesses justifies the means of institutionalized deception? Really? Is that how you want to monetize the industry? Well, enough of the half measures. You’re selling your souls for peanuts. As long as you’re willing to drain a publication’s reservoir of trust a cupful at a time, why try something more lucrative?
Drug smuggling brings in pretty nice coin.
Meantime, keep writing stuff like your reply to John Oliver. If your goal is to insult the intelligence of the Federal Trade Commission, which is considering rulemaking that could decimate your business, you are not in Santa Monica and Kiev brandishing an open letter. You are in Pamplona waving a red flag.