Native Advertising and Fake News…Not Much Difference?

Jim Weber, you’ve called out the emperor and his imaginary clothes. Well done.

“I can only laugh when publishers bemoan the growth of fake news and then in the same breath gush about how native advertising is the future of digital media,” Weber writes on LinkedIn.

“When people condemn the former and praise the latter I feel like Will Ferrell’s character Jacobim Mugatu in Zoolander: ‘They’re the same thing! Doesn’t anybody notice this?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!!’”

Like Weber, we understand how it happened. Publishers, frantic to find a new business model that makes hay with their online real estate, looked with glee to native advertising and sponsored content to fill their sails (sales?) again.

They banked on it so much that major media brands launched native ad studios to help the process along. The idea has had its critic; in fact many said 2016 was the year native ads either made it, or didn’t. The problem? Too many people didn’t realize that the content was paid. Too many people didn’t realize that is wasn’t real journalism…aka fake news.

“Fake news is in fact just a natural extension of native advertising,” he continues. “’Branded content’ is a piece of propaganda that an advertiser tries to convince readers is the truth by paying publishers a fee. So it was only a matter of time until scam artists reverse engineered this process by creating content people want to believe and making money off it via Google AdSense.”

As we noted last month, native ads may be the trend of the moment, but common sense tells us this isn’t going to work in the long run, especially in this hyper-sensitive media environment. The fake news debacle is helping to kill off native ads.

Weber takes it a step further, calling out publishers for decrying the fake news epidemic, while standing guilty of sponsoring their own news-that’s-not-really-news.

“At a time when confidence in the media is at an all-time low after a presidential election that made that issue abundantly clear, news organizations can’t play the role of victim over fake news while at the same time profiting off a practice that 54% of readers say they have felt deceived by,” Weber asserts.

“Look, publishers aren’t going to end native advertising. It is too lucrative and they are too desperate for new ways to generate more revenue. But they can’t have their cake and eat it too by calling for a crackdown on fake news while profiting off the very same practice themselves under a different name,” Weber says.

The irony is rife, and even more so because what brands really want from native ads – eyeballs, reach and engagement – is not what they get. Readers are increasingly skeptical of that paid content, and by extension the brands that are footing the bill. In the process, publishers face a backlash too, as readers becoming increasingly disenchanted with a media organization that disregards the division of editorial and profit.

The message to publishers is clear: keep sacred that trust you have with your readership. Without that trust, all else is pointless.