Sometimes I look at what’s going on in publishing as if someone was whispering the Springsteen lyric in management’s ear:
Those romantic young boys, they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?
The easy money comes from native advertising, particularly the kind that’s plug and play. Just as in the song, however, there isn’t any easy money that comes without strings attached and some research from Penn State found out just what those strings entail.
The research team found that when content was identified as native advertising, readers held a lower opinion of the media outlet it was published in. However, the reputation of the company being promoted was not affected…“We all have the idea that the news media should be objective and neutral…that’s how it works,” Wu said. “But people may see the media and companies working together to deceive us…so they change their perception toward the media more dramatically. On the other hand, people see that the company is just doing what it’s supposed to, promoting itself.”
The speaker in the quote above is the PhD student who conducted the study. While I certainly understand the importance of revenue generation in an increasingly competitive and difficult marketplace, I also understand the value of a publisher’s reputation. That reputation, like all of ours, takes a long time to establish but can be shattered rather quickly. The loss of trust is fatal for any brand and particularly so for an information service.
Maybe it’s called “native content” or maybe it’s actually identified as “sponsored content” or a “promoted post.” Either way, it’s generally not immediately identifiable as being from a source different from the main news or information the publisher puts out. I think most of us dislike being enticed to read something under false pretenses, and part of the decision to invest time in reading involves the quality of the content which is predicated on the source. When we’re deceived, we’re unhappy, and when we’re unhappy, we don’t return.
Publishers need to beware. There is no easy money to be made unless you’re in it for the short term and are reputation-agnostic. Are you?