Once upon a time, there was a bright line between advertising and editorial content/entertainment.

As in, here’s where the news content stops and the advertising starts; or here’s where the entertainment programming stops and the advertising starts.

No more.

Marketers and news organizations are now doing their best to redefine advertising as “just like editorial content,” as one Forbes Media executive explained.

Start with news media distributing brand-produced videos cheek-by-jowl with news videos.

From MediaPost:

The Natives Are Restless: News Publishers Move Line Distinguishing Edit, Ad Content

If there is a red line delineating the church and state of journalism, some big news publishers have just crossed it — introducing a spate of new “native” advertising formats that blur the line between advertising and editorial content in new ways, including brand-produced videos served directly in the news organizations’ video news players. The publishers, which include NBC News and Forbes, are not sheepish, much less apologetic about moving the line more to the advertisers’ side of the ledger, but say it is part of an inexorable — indeed an inevitable — shift merging the “storytelling” of their organic journalism with those of their advertisers.

It’s all about new revenue models, the newsvertising organizations say, “as well as changes in the way consumers — especially digital users — consume and even think about news content.”

“Native advertising is really just more relevant advertising,” explains Kyoo Kim, vice president-sales of NBC News Digital, adding: “If we can figure out how to earn a place on that infinite loop, whether it is a mobile device, a tablet, or a smart TV, then we are creating an environment and product that is more relevant to that experience.”

By “infinite loop,” Kim was referring to a new news consumption behavior that NBC News says it has uncovered as part of its research into the new news consumer personas, especially the so-called “Always On” consumer that is constantly connected to news feeds from the moment they wake to the moment they go to sleep, accessing it from various platforms and devices throughout their day.

Those consumers, Kim says, expect advertisers’ content to be more integrated with their overall news consumption.

Mighty convenient, dontcha think?

Here’s more self-justification:

[One marketing executive] says he believes the new native ad formats actually are more appropriate and authentic for contemporary news audiences because there has been a generational shift in the way they consume content and the way people communicate in general.

“Especially with the new generation, if it’s in advertising, it’s suspicious,” he says.

In other words, you asked for it.

And there’s yet another way consumers are contributing to the newsvertising trend. Also from MediaPost:

Advertising Jumps The Shark: Becomes Conduit For Content

In a surprising twist for the advertising industry, the hottest new model being developed by digital ad platforms is flipping the historic model between advertising and content: Instead of editorial or entertainment content being a conduit to distribute advertising, advertising is becoming a means for distributing content. The latest manifestation of this trend comes from Kontera, a company that helped pioneer the field of so-called “in-text” advertising, which today will unveil an ambitious new initiative enabling advertisers to pull any form of content — including “owned,” professionally produced or user-generated — directly into some new, dynamically served advertising units.

It’s also called a “content activation platform.” Translation for the gobbledygook-impaired: The ad is you.

MediaPost: “[I]n its most extreme examples, the system will enable marketers to pull an individual user’s own words directly into an ad.”  Of course, by “most extreme examples” they mean all the time.

But wait – there’s more.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The Advertorial’s Best Friend

BuzzFeed Site Relies on Sponsored Content Shared by Visitors on Social Media

Last April, the BuzzFeed website posted “11 Things No One Wants To See You Instagram,” a snarky reminder to resist the temptation to share online photos of your lunch or toes.

Over the next few weeks, the post drew 2,000 Facebook FB +0.13% ”likes” and about 330,000 views. But most of those views weren’t on BuzzFeed’s home page. Instead, they were from people sharing the post on social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Stories go viral every day. But what made the post unusual is that it was an ad for Virgin Mobile, which was promoting more entertainment for sharing on the Virgin Mobile Live website.

Aimed at enhancing Virgin Mobile’s brand, the so-called sponsored story was an example of a new breed of online marketing that takes advantage of people’s tendency to share online content with their friends.

Turns out BuzzFeed is “building a business around helping advertisers craft messages that people will share with their friends.”

Once again, the ad is you.

But, the Journal says, this was sort of inevitable.

Sponsored online content, which blurs some of the traditional boundaries between advertising and editorial, isn’t new. Gawker Media introduced sponsored posts in 2009 in the stream of its regular blog posts. Forbes.com and Huffington Post also have introduced similar advertorials.

Facebook Inc. recently introduced its own form of social advertising, also called sponsored stories, which show up on a user’s Facebook page if a friend “liked” an advertiser’s brand. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg called sponsored stories the “cornerstone” of Facebook’s advertising strategy.

But the sharing of sponsored content is the centerpiece of BuzzFeed’s business model. Mr. Peretti is so sure about the premise that he has dispensed with traditional banner advertising entirely.

BuzzFeed’s pitch to advertisers is that its sponsored stories have a leg up amid the vast social-media landscape because it has technology that allows the company to cater content to the topics are going viral at a given moment.

By making it look like independent, credible, we-have-no-financial-stake-in-this content, that is.

Ha!

And we haven’t even gotten to brand journalism.

Come to think of it, let’s leave that for another day.

 


John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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