If you’ve followed the debates about paid blog posts and sponsored Tweets, you know that advertisers are encroaching on editorial. But one of the most intriguing trends is editorial going the other way — with real, objective reporting being provided by businesses. We noted last week that IBM has launched a new Think portal filled with Economist-type content.
Now Mint.com, the online personal finance aggregator, is offering news analysis to help consumers understand the complexities of different business sectors. Mint doesn’t have to do this — it could have a blog just promoting its own services — but the value it provides in understanding the financial world is intriguing enough that consumers may give it a shot at managing their finances, too. Uber-blogger Chris Brogan suggests in his new book Trust Agents that the formula for trust is the ratio of your authenticity to self-orientation. We agree, which is why paying bloggers to write reviews about your products fails the trust test, and why helpful, authentic resources like this from Mint pass with flying colors.
Bonus Points: The actual formula from page 79 of Brogan’s book is Trust = (Credibility x Reliability x Intimacy)/Self-orientation. On a scale of 1 to 10, plug your communications into this formula and see what the result would be.
Speaking of Starbucks, it pepped up debate over at The New York Times with a new online ad format that could confuse readers. The editorial content of nytimes.com/magazine surrounds an ad box marked Starbucks Mini News, which includes three editorial articles with links to real NYT content and one article that is an ad for Starbucks, but isn’t marked an ad. If the box-within-a-box seems tricky, well, that’s the point.
Advertorial has been around for a century, but one reason it works is it is always marked clearly an ad, so that readers know where the material is coming from. The problem we see as media planners with blurring the lines of editorial church and advertising state is that confused readers may click, but they won’t necessarily convert. Even if one-off campaigns succeed in getting results for the advertiser in question, the overall devaluation of the editorial copy and advertising clarity doesn’t help readership circulation or advertiser results in the long run.
Clarity of source is important, because it helps readers decide which path they want to take. If you plan to court consumers with advertising, we recommend an honest marriage. If you, as a marketer, don’t think you need to worry about tricking people into picking up your message, we refer you to the history of the telemarketing industry.
Hat tip to NYT editor Patrick LaForge for an insightful debate on this via Twitter.
We checked in on the pay-per-tweet service Magpie, in which people online agree to turn over their personal Twitter accounts to let ads run. The ads aren’t disclosed. They look like genuine opinions from these people. These people get paid (a little) as messages are transmitted to thousands of online followers. Brands like Apple, Skype and Flip are participating.
Is this cool? Do such paid insertions in conversations break trust, even if “sponsorship” is disclosed, if the recipient can’t tell the source of the opinion?
If we told you the Flip camera is the coolest little device, would you now believe us?
Do you see the problem?
Like a kid grabbing a cookie not realizing the sugar is bad for her, the once-mighty Los Angeles Times has run a front-page advertorial article that reads like real police blotter copy. To wit:
“It’s not every assignment that puts you in the back of a squad car, especially one that gives you a true glimpse into the hearts of the heroes behind the badge. This is the story of one such day when this reporter got a chance to …”
… what? Investigate cops in a squad car? Cool, sounds like LAT is winding up for a Pulitzer.
Alas, it’s an ad, and even with the clarifying logo at top, if we had an IQ below 100 we’d be tempted to think this is real news. We checked in with the American Society of Magazine Editors to see how the higher-brow glossy set manages advertorial copy, and they have strict guidelines: “For magazines to be trusted by consumers and to endure as brands, readers must be assured of their editorial integrity… advertisements should look different enough from editorial pages that readers can tell the difference.”
And that’s the rub. Whether newspaper or magazine, confusing the boundaries between ads and editorial helps no one in the long term. Misled readers tend to move away to resources they can trust. Nicely played, NBC. We pity all the advertisers riding in the response rate cars that follow you. Via Make the Logo Bigger.