The New York Times does it. The Wall Street Journal does it. And now CNN does it. (Heck, the birds, bees, and even educated fleas probably do it.)
The “it” is sponsored content, and, for better and for worse, it’s changing the face of journalism.
Sponsored content goes by many names—native advertising, branded content, branded news, content marketing, custom content, and advertorials—but according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau they are all “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”
Simply put, it’s a new way for media outlets to make a buck.
On one hand I get it. Print publications have been struggling financially for years. More and more books have been trying to stay afloat with a virtually useless life preserver: banner ads. (Think about it, when’s the last time you clicked on a banner ad…on purpose?) They’re just not working, and print media needs a new, creative approach.
But on the other hand, the way it’s being presented strikes at my journalistic heart. It’s marketing material that does more than just sit next to articles; it’s disguised as unbiased news. And so the line that has traditionally separated the editorial office and business office gets very blurred.
John Oliver from Last Week Tonight does a great job of capturing the controversy surrounding sponsored content. Check out his satirical take below, and then share your thoughts in the comments section.