Monday, November 10, 2014

RADICAL THOUGHTS: The Return on Advertorials

Varsha Poddar | IIM Shillong

The journalism ethics of Bennett Coleman & Co, the publishing house that owns The Times of India came under a dubious light when the firm admitted to publishing ‘advertorials’ or articles that looked like normal press coverage but were actually paid for by a party with vested interests. Thereafter, advertorials became a sort of pesky norm that newspaper readers made reluctant peace with. Some newspapers then came clean about it and began to publish separate advertorial sections so that readers could discern between genuine reportage and swayed reviews. However, now, once again advertorials are surreptitiously creeping into a space that had previously been free of any vested-interest broadcasts – social media. Social media holds the power to make content go viral. Sites like buzzfeed, thoughtcatalog, boredpanda, to name a few, and their indian counterparts such as scoopwhoop, allindiabakchod and storypick carry posts that are essentially everyday occurrences boiled down to simple, laundrylist- like content. These are shared over and over again on social networking sites because people connect to them instantly. However, a lot of posts from these sites are actually nothing but advertisements pretending to be normal content.

Take for instance, BuzzFeed’s post “10 Summer Emojis That Should Definitely Exist” which was actually sponsored by Starbucks or “What should you do before summer ends” sponsored by Pepsi. Posts such as there pass as organic as the title and URL give no hint whatsoever that the content is actually an ad. As a result, they gain much more viewership than advertisements that do not masquerade as creative content and often go viral, giventhe standard virality that the site holds.
Scoopwhoop also ran posts such as the video “This Hilarious Prank Video Tells You The Difference Between A Good Friend & A Best Friend” which was actually sponsored by Airtel. While marketers are making good use of contentsharing sites such as these as they prove to be more effective and less expensive, social media users are beginning to question the authenticity of the content they consume, much like the newspaper readers did with the advertorials. And as a result, change is on its way – BuzzFeed now displays prominent yellow buttons saying “Promoted by (brand partner)” for its sponsored posts and “Publishing partner” for featured brand pages. While the indian counterparts are yet to take similar steps, it could only be a matter of time before the content consumers once again upend the publishers into telling them clearly if their early morning paper or, in this case, the never-ending lists and trivia they consume are actually meant to manipulate them into more consumerism or not.

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