No Ralph Nader, “fake news” is not advertising’s fault

No Ralph Nader, “fake news” is not advertising’s fault
Credit: FlackCheck.org

I know advertising isn’t an industry viewed with a whole lot of trust. Gallup polling year after year puts perception of ethics for our ilk alongside senators and car salespeople. And I understand this to a degree, since we are professional persuaders. But some of the current anti-advertising rhetoric has gone too far.

I’m looking at you, Ralph Nader.

Now, I don’t want to pick a fight with a man to whom I owe thanks every time I buckle my seatbelt. But I do feel compelled to respond to Mr. Nader’s recent, over-the-top, piece on Huffington Post that blames advertising for fake news. A tad ironic to see on an ad-supported website, I must say.

The article purports that “fake news,” a term that’s already so overused that it’s lost any real meaning, has always existed as a “deceptive tactic” employed by “shameless” marketers to fool readers.

Rubbish. If any relationship between fake news and advertising exists, it’s parasitic, driven by greedy producers spreading viral-ready click-bait across social channels. Unwitting consumers who click are redirected to the shameless, deceptive content creator’s site. As the visit number increases, so does the advertisers’ bill. While they may be getting exposure, it’s likely not the exposure they want.

Speaking of what people want, we know it isn’t to pay for content. A survey by trade group the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), whose participants represent every stakeholder group in the advertising ecosystem from the 4A’s to Zillow, found that more than 85 percent of respondents prefer having free content on an ad-supported internet.

The 1000+ consumers who participated in the survey clearly understood that they were involved in a value exchange. When asked to estimate the price of all the digital content and services they now access for free if moved to a subscription-based model, they estimated a cost of about $100 per month. While they considered this content and other digital services to be very important, three-quarters said they would reduce their online time “a great deal” if required to pay.

More than just adding costs to consumers, the sudden disappearance of advertising would have a huge economic toll. In March, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released results of a study on the massive impact of the ad-supported internet.  Before you cry FAKE SURVEY! because of the source, know that the IAB only commissioned the research, which was conducted by Prof. John Deighton, the Baker Foundation Professor and the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School.

The results found that the ad-supported internet brought over $1 trillion into the US economy in 2016, equivalent to six percent of the GDP. Further, it supported 10.4 million jobs, again, just in the US. This is 7.3 percent of the country’s total non-farm employment.

Forget coal and manufacturing – this is where the growth is, and it’s not just in New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Compared to the 2012 iteration of the IAB’s study, the ad-supported internet experienced a 20 percent CAGR – five times the average. Jobs-wise, the number doubled from 2012 to 2016, and 86 percent are located outside of stereotypical tech centers. Some of the biggest employment numbers were found in North Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Yes, Utah.

Now let’s address the allegation that advertising is a force of deception, ever-evolving with the intent of manipulating the innocent masses.

The ad industry has an alphabet soup of organizations that provide research, oversight, standards and best practices, enabling the industry to primarily self-regulate. None of these organizations want deceptive advertising, and if there is anything questionable, we ultimately answer to the feds, with the FTC in the US and the ASA in the UK.

Now, let’s talk specifically about native advertising, the “invisible” ads we “shifty sellers” are using to “Trojan horse” sales pitches without the “legal baggage” of “pure advertising.”

Native advertising isn’t about cheating or fooling anyone. It’s about adding value – for publishers, for advertisers and for audiences. For publishers, it’s an answer to the declining CPMs and other problems of display advertising like ad fraud and ad blocking. For advertisers, it can tell a richer story and connect on a deeper level. For audiences, it means fewer stupid, annoying banner ads.

Earlier this year, The Content Strategist and the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY (again, can’t cry FAKE!) conducted an in-depth study on native advertising. They found no benefit in trickery for advertiser or publishers. In fact, the most effective native ad in the survey as measured by declared effect on purchase intent was the most clearly labelled. 41 percent of respondents also stated that a native ad for a trustworthy brand made them trust the publisher more.

Maybe there was a time when advertising was about fooling people a la fake news, but to say that’s the case now is naive at best. The business model we’ve established for digital is ad supported. People hate crappy ads. No one can blame them for that. So the model is changing to be more content based and that should be embraced.

Netflix has an exemplary approach to native, using well-written reporting around true stories of women in prison, presidential couples and drug smuggling. Who cares that these were to promote Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Narcos? Or take something decidedly less sexy – financial services. Social Finance (SoFi) has used native advertising to share practical guidance to its primarily-millennial audience in a way that is fun, organic and genuinely helpful. Don’t believe me, just check out the enthusiastic comments on their post, “How To Ask For A Raise And Actually Get It.  

In each of these cases, the content is good, it fits seamlessly in the publisher’s environment and it genuinely brings value to the reader.

It’s a win-win-win, Mr. Nader. Where’s the problem in that?

Feature image source: FlackCheck.org

Read next: Microsoft is forcing Windows 10 S users to rely on Edge and Bing by default