Ruminations

Surprise! YOU Are a Native Ad

Native ads, as Oliver explains in the clip, are advertisements created in-house by an editorial staff and made to appear like regular content. Buzzfeed's entire income is generated by "branded content," or the thousands of corporate-sponsored "listicles" and quizzes that have the feel of regular content, but are actually paid for by companies in order to subtly promote their product. Even the New York Times, which has a reputation as perhaps the most reliable news source in the country, has also engaged in this type of advertising. In the clip, Oliver makes mention of the Times' article on women in prison, carefully researched and fact-checked according to the publication's standards, that was paid for by Netflix to promote "Orange is the New Black."

The supposed objectivity of journalism is what makes these acts more egregious than, say, the native advertising seen in Netflix original series, which TechCrunch revealed to be nothing more than Emmy-winning product placements, with "House of Cards" scripts written and directed not around the political machinations of Frank Underwood, but his sleek, executive's Blackberry, and his environmentally-friendly Repurpose Compostables coffee cup. 

Though I am in complete agreement with Oliver when it comes to the potential for native ads to taint editorial content, I do not know how angry we can really be, for we, our bodies and minds, are also native advertisements. 

Each and every one of us supports big business. We're all aware our clothes are branded, and much of the food we eat comes from multi-nationals like Tyson and PespiCo. But we are also supporting corporations with our college attendance (my school, the University of Washington - Seattle has close ties to Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, as well as investments in fossil fuel companies) and our votes (Barack Obama's financial contributors also include Microsoft, as well as Coca Cola, AT&T, and Wall Street corporations like Goldman Sachs).

Can it really be said that news organizations, even before the advent of native ads, were "objective?" I would argue no. For journalists are, first and foremost, people, and people are notoriously subjective, prone to errors in thinking, and moved by the whims of outside forces. The same is true of editors, and publishers, and literally every other person in the news industry. (One could even argue the computers and phones used in newsrooms around the world are not objective, for they are run on programming coded by, you guessed it, people.)

This is exacerbated by the fact that the news industry itself is and always has been reliant on advertising, for, as Oliver said, if those consuming news won't pay for the news (and they won't), then Marc Jacobs and other retailers step in, funding news hopefully in exchange for increased sales, rising stocks, and more black leather quilted heart bags on the streets. 

Reliance on native advertising is a symptom, not the disease itself. The disease, I would argue, is unchecked global capitalism, mixed with a castrated governmental system, and an apathetic citizenry that has been dazzled into false contentment by the very corporations whose influence we purport to loathe. I have no solution, for these issues are much bigger than any one of us, but I do think these matters are worth reflecting upon. 

And no, this post was not paid for by the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA or the Freedom of the Press Foundation for that matter.

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