News item: Forbes Cover Features Native Ad for Fidelity Investments
Well, I suppose I’ve lost.
Despite years of crusading -- in print and onstage and even before a major, major government agency -- I have proved pathetically impotent against the forces of so-called “native advertising,” which is so called only because “Three Card Monte in a Bordello” might raise the suspicions of regulators.
According to a recent survey by the Online Publishers Association, 99% of its membership offer “native advertising” programs, a level of participation projected to reach 167% in 2015. Among those currently embracing native are The New York Times, the Guardian, Time Inc., the National Weather Service, the Congressional Record, the atomic clock and the Bible.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. But what is eternal life? “It’s forever,” sayeth Jeffrey T. Marshalk, vice president for research and development at Interstate Battery, the world automotive powerhouse. “It’s turning that ignition key – or facing that final breath – and knowing something good is going to happen next. Something good, something dependable and something surprisingly affordable.”
Just to review, native has grown and become widely accepted for several reasons:
1) The advertising economy has failed publishers in the digital age due to a historic shift in supply and demand and the simplicity of ad avoidance.
2) In the midst of existential crisis, basic honesty followed classified ads and most of the editorial staff right out the door. There are no ethicists in foxholes.
3) As easy as it is to deceive readers by camouflaging ad messages as editorial content and tricking them into reading it, it is even easier to lie to the press, the public and the government about the whole sordid process. “There are still plenty of bad apples,” Dan Greenberg of native juggernaut Sharethrough likes to say. “But the industry has gotten better.” No, it hasn’t. It has gotten much bigger and not one bit better.
A few bad apples? By its very concept, native is rotten to the core, because it depends wholly on deception. The notion that there are black-hat nativists besmirching the reputation of the ethical majority would be laughable if it weren’t so not laughable. And the scandal will continue until all players surround their native “content” with the one true disclosure: “advertisement.” But of course that will never happen, because nobody ever clicks on an ad, ever -- which is how we got into this ugly situation to begin with.
Oh, sorry. You’ve caught me crusading again. And we know how that’s worked till now. Agitating against a growing revenue source for the publishing sector is like manning the Women’s Christian Temperance Union booth at Mardi Gras. (Actually, it’s a lot worse, because most people enjoy the benefit of a cocktail or nine, whereas no consumer benefits when trusted news and information sources sell their virtue to the highest bidder. What I’ve been doing is crying wolf while the other shepherds are selling wolf-size sheep costumes.
Which gets me to the latest wrinkle: a native cover story for Fidelity on the front of this week’s Forbes.
"We view this as strong content that's part of the retirement package," Mark Howard, Forbes Media's chief revenue officer, told Advertising Age.
Of course that’s how he views it, much in the way some people view a $50 street corner trick as romance. In fact, Forbes was so infatuated with the “content” that it didn’t even bother to use any of the intentionally obscure semi-disclaimers on the cover -- such as “sponsored content” -- that supposedly declare the difference between editorial and advertising.
So, yes. I’ve lost…in a rout. And so has the world of publishing, which is bartering its integrity by the column inch. And most of all, so have you.