Business

Watch John Oliver take on the news industry's new addiction: native ads

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John Oliver’s Daily Show spin-off has become delightfully nerdy. Yesterday, he went off on the news industry discrete addiction to disguised advertisements in the form of story-like posts, otherwise know as native advertising.

Ever since the Internet apocalypse eradicated print and classified ads as a source of revenue for newspapers, it’s been struggling to find a way to profitability. Just last week, The New York Times posted a scary 21 percent profit drop, despite an uptick in circulation.

So the newspaper has been experimenting with native ads, which are currently the main source of revenue for more successful new media outlets, such as Buzzfeed. The pretty story below was sponsored by Netflix in discrete promotion of their original series Orange Is The New Black.

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Oliver, however, isn’t a fan. As he said,  “I like to think of news and advertising as the separation of guacamole and Twizzlers. Separately, they’re good. But if you mix them together, somehow you make both of them really gross.”

Evidence suggests that neither young nor older viewers care much about the presence of native ads. Patrick Howe and Brady Teufel published a survey of attitudes on a mock-Buzzfeed site and found that younger viewers were both more a little likely to recognize native ads on a page and still trust the news site [PDF].

This was an argument echoed by New York Times executive VP of ads Meredith Levien, who said, “Let me start by vigorously refuting the notion that native advertising has to erode consumer trust or compromise the wall that exists between editorial and advertising. Good native advertising is just not meant to be trickery. It’s meant to be publishers sharing storytelling tools with marketers.”

Oliver was not impressed. “Exactly, it’s not trickery,” he said. “It’s sharing storytelling tools. And that’s not bullshit. It’s repurposed bovine waste.”

Oliver notes that while media advertisers may claim that users can tell the difference, a separate study by Edelman found that 41 percent can’t distinguish native ads from regular ones.

But he acknowledged that at HBO, he’s rather lucky to be ad-free, noting that he can freely say “that Cadbury Creme Eggs are filled with dolphin sperm, or old Navy clothing makes you look like a tacky murderer, or that Snickers only satisfies you for about eight minutes then makes you hate yourself for the rest of the day.”

Oliver concluded that because few people are willing to actually pay for articles (like the article you’re reading right now), there’s no clear solution. The news industry still hasn’t figured out how to better monetize content.

In the mean time, if any advertisers out there want to sponsor me as a journalist, I have some free space for a tattoo on my forehead. Price negotiable.


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