One day when God became so angry with mankind after their vain attempts at building the tower of Babel, to be more in his likeness, he henceforth sent them the Babylonian language of confusion thereby ending their delusions at becoming gods. Uwe Schmidt* explains his thinking.
In actual fact, it was humans alone, the communications industry to be more precise, who orchestrated this tangle of languages: native advertising, product placement, content marketing, advertorials and several more phrases buzzing around the market. Seemingly perplexing although all having one thing in common: It all boils down to occupying editorial space.
Before things were different: There were clear-cut lines between the editorial and advertising spaces in the media. On the one side, there were broadcasting formats for TV and on the other radio and commercials. Print media had the articles and adverts, which didn’t as yet exist in online platforms. There was also a media law, which clearly separated these divisional areas. Ultimately, it was all about protecting the viewers, listeners and readers: They should be able to precisely recognise which are the editorial and advertising contents.
Battle zones in editorial spaces
This has now come to an end – or at least this appears partly to be the case. The new battle zones are the editorial spaces. Everyone wants in: PR workers from here, but now also massively, advertising and SEOs. This is what the PR and advertising legend David Ogilvy had in mind, when he once said, there is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. It took over 50 years before these floodgates opened.
Today’s digital advertising models consistently attempt to closely link their advertising to content material. And this is where the term “Native Advertising” has its roots. “Native” sounds somehow inoffensive – just like the term “native speaker”. But the meaning is not as innocent as it may sound, but attempts from now on to display advertising in an editorial light. It is therefore a kind of mimicry. The foregrounds and backgrounds blend together making them, from henceforth, indistinguishable.
For publications, who for years resisted this trend, they are joined together in the hope that finally again sufficient revenues could be generated. Recently though these can not be obtained through print and neither through banner advertising. This means this castle is ready to be conquered, the resistance from publications severely crumbling, advertising from editorial spaces preferably kept away. Since it is about pure survival.
Thus lately, possibilities such as “sponsored posts”, where themed pages are on offer together with hyperlinks and with articles interspersed with recommendations for brands or in their footnotes where further links, photos and videos can be found.
The identification of advertising content, of late, in editorial spaces is from a legal media point of view imperatively necessary (just as for advertorials), but much exists only in grey zones – or that is to say, we allow this to happen, barely allowing the law enough time to maneuver.
Does PR lack self-confidence?
The PR industry must be careful that digitalisation in the communications industry doesn’t threaten their terrain. Now that we can shop more openly than before in the editorial sectors, what future does PR still hold in the industry? Obviously, advertorials have been in existence for a longer time. But the vastness of digital editorial spaces offer unimagined possibilities.
Is it possible that momentarily, public relations are lacking self-confidence and ideas? PR always targeted the editorial sections. This is where content is delivered – especially when it is good journalism. Thereof – besides the journalists themselves – people in PR have always mostly understood this. They mostly did this so well, that their clients didn’t have to come up with extra money for placements.
However, publications are offering for their editorial space offensives a so-called “sponsored posts” or “themed-pages”. Asking prices for these range from between €20.000 and €85.000. Naturally, only the big consumer brands can afford these prices, meaning those who from the start restructured their budget away from the classical model of advertising.
Media regulatory grey-zones
What does this imply for the end-consumer? Ultimately they should not notice the difference between editorial and advertising content. From a regulatory media perspective, this new point of view is a powerful expansion of what has been valid for the last few decades. The advocates of this new form of advertising view this naturally differently and applaud the opportunity to offer consumers content with new themes which come across enthrallingly prepared and which offer the chance of diverse inter-linking possibilities.
It definitely will remain interesting to observe how the communications industry (and also media laws) with respect to the new forms of advertising, will develop over the next few years.
* Uwe Schmidt is the CEO of Industrie-Contact AG (IC AG), with its head office in Hamburg, as well as the Past President & current Head of the Advisory Board of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN)
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