Why native advertising is purer than the 6pm news

Rakhal EbeliFollowing recent debate around the practice of native advertising Rakhal Ebeli argues it could actually help create a better line between editorial and advertising for media.

Have you ever seen a magician play that trick where he holds one hand out to the right, drawing the untrained eye off the prize, whilst all the while a coin is being cunningly produced from ‘ones ear’? Hey presto! Guess what? That doesn’t only happen in magic. It’s happening all around you. Even, would you believe, in the space where news and commercial reality collide.

Rants and raves on ‘native advertising’ like John Oliver’s are entertaining and will get the drums beating as hawks wage war on ‘brand journalism’ with the uneducated marching behind them. But what if those who are riding that wave of anger, claiming the lines of journalism and marketing are being blurred are actually so ‘on trend’ that they’re missing out on where the real action is.. the money is by your earlobe, remember? If you are so confident of your position, that’s exactly where the magician wants you to be, right?

I think if you have a beef against sponsored content, brand journalism, native advertising… whatever you want to call it and however you want to frame it, you are missing the point. In fact, you have actually been missing the point for a long time and now you are shouting it from the rooftops.

Before I go any further and in the interests of full disclosure I will make it clear I am the founder of Newsmodo, a global agency that engages specialist journalists to create content for publishers, brands and other agencies. We have provided exclusive breaking news coverage recently to most major news outlets of the MH17 tragedy, connecting major Australian news networks with dozens of journalists on the ground who provided exclusive content and coverage.

We also specialise in ‘brand journalism’ and work closely with clients across business, finance, FMCG, sport, lifestyle, travel and other sectors to create quality content that informs and engages their audiences.

At least native advertising is legitimate
Call up a publisher and ask the receptionist for the person who creates ‘sponsored content’ and where do you land? Yep, sales. You are buying ad space. This is a transparent process and the advertorial is published with a lovely little, yes admittedly it’s a diminishing little ‘sponsored content’ tag at the top.

We all know the game here, so please stop pretending this is new, stop being outraged, it’s been happening for years, just now, through agencies like Newsmodo, both brands and publishers are getting really damn good at it. The quality of the content is typically exceptional, after all, it has had to satisfy so many stakeholders. The journalists working on sponsored content are typically subjected to strict vetting, and the budgets.. well.. no longer is the first consideration ‘how cheaply can we get this written!’.

Can we say the same for traditional news?

The simple answer is… no. I’ve worked in commercial news environments and I’m aware of commercial advertising arrangements that bleed into programming. Yep, that’s right. Stories that usually may not have been covered are now in the rundown, because of commercial arrangements in place. They’re not even marked as ads people!

How does this happen? Simple, really. It’s tough times and traditional publishers in TV, radio and print are ‘bending’ the rules of engagement to satisfy their sponsors. Simply put… the company speaks to the sales team, buys ads. Deal really should stop there, right? I mean, we don’t watch the news to see ‘sponsored content’… but we do see it, all the time.

Phone calls are made and in a climate where TV networks can ill afford to ‘turn the other way’ powers in the corner offices of the world’s broadcasters and publishers are telling news editors, sport editors, morning show hosts and reporters to preference their clients. Give them coverage they say. Make their dollar go further.

So wait, are you saying ‘editorial’ is corroding sponsored content?

Yes. If you want to take a moral high ground, get one thing clear – Nothing is black or white – particularly with ‘sponsored content’. The ‘wall between Church and State’ was never there folks. It’s imaginary, like the fear created by the ‘war on terror’ and Santa Claus knowing if you were naughty or nice… it positions us to faithfully (naively) accept the status quo. So when ‘native advertising’ comes around… “oh no” we shout (or if you are John Oliver ‘roar’ – like Katy Perry) because what we know as ‘right’ is now being oh-so wronged.

So, if advertising has been influencing editorial content in TV bulletins, newspapers and just about everywhere we turn for news for years, doesn’t ‘native advertising’ give us a chance to clean up the industry? I know if you’ve read this far that you must already know that commercial pressures influence news. So now, why not pressure all publishers and broadcasters to draw a line in the sand. Keep sponsored content at a premium and divert all traffic that way, stopping the bad stench of editorial from diluting the golden egg that’s just been laid… or so those people still staring at the magician’s hand would think.

Rakhal Ebeli is the founder and managing director of Newsmodo 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.