Posts Tagged ‘ newspapers ’

Unmasking Internet ads in disguise

If there’s any governing mantra to the mishmash of advertising campaigns floating about the Internet these days it’s this — don’t make your ad look, sound or feel like an ad.

Easier said than done. Consumers are highly attuned to commercial persuasion and are always developing new defense mechanisms against the bombardment of ads assaulting their senses every day. So marketers instead make commercials entertaining, or they sneak product placement into scripted movies/television shows, or perhaps they just package the whole message as if it’s legitimate news.

This third tactic is perhaps the most effective, and disturbing. Many Americans, at least among older generations, were raised to trust that mainstream news sources are objective with regards to commercial interests and will only praise a product if it meets exacting standards. So when they see print ads made to look like newspaper articles or TV commercials made to look like news broadcasts, significant credibility is fraudulently conveyed.

Maybe that’s the thinking behind the Federal Trade Commission’s newest regulations on bloggers touting a product. The guidelines stipulate that bloggers must disclose all ties to a company they write about, all the way down to any free samples they receive in order to review the item. Among certain demographics, blogs are now trusted sources of information. If a blogger is getting paid by a company in order to garner more favorable copy, the F.T.C. reasons, readers have a right to know.

It’s a fair point, but one open to scrutiny for its double standard. Both bloggers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have lashed out at the regulations only targeting blogs and not traditional media outlets. A blogger faces a possible $11,000 fine if he fails to disclose that a record label sent him a free CD that he reviewed. But if a music critic in a newspaper or magazine doesn’t make the same disclosure, there’s no punishment. And these critics get free goodies all the time.

The regulations also open up a slippery slope of potential new restrictions. How are Tweets and Facebook postings, with severe constraints on content length, supposed to disclose biased reviews? And what about traditional media outlets that do glowing feature stories on a prominent advertiser? Why are they left off the hook for such highly deceptive behavior?

It’s the F.T.C.’s job to ensure truth in advertising. Sharpening the line between independent content and paid advertising is an important part of that mission and worthy of some new regulations. The problem comes in singling out bloggers as the only ones engaging in the shady practice. There’s plenty of culprits to go around. In the end it will take a more savvy consumer and some more practical legal guidelines to unmask all these disguised ads.

Would you like some video with that magazine?

With circulation for print media outlets plummeting along with ad revenues, ideas abound on how to “save” the industry.

  • Charge for content
  • Go hyperlocal
  • Cut staff
  • Blog more
  • Pretend you “get” Twitter

Here’s the latest idea: replace ink with pixels.

This week Entertainment Weekly is debuting a new chip that embeds video into the a page of the print edition. It’s an ad for CBS’ new fall lineup, with around 40 minutes of video clips on upcoming shows, kicked off with a comical intro from the stars of The Big Bang Theory. Right now the cost of the chip is keeping the ad only running in major markets, but the technology is widely available and could very well pop up in other magazines in the near future.

The instant association (well, at least for Harry Potter fans) is the moving pictures of the fictional Daily Prophet, a seemingly magical version of the newspaper that also mirrors what the movie Minority Report envisioned as the future of “print” journalism.

We’re not that far off from such a possibility, with innovations rapidly developing with e-ink that can transpose digital images onto screens that have the size and flexibility of paper. If you’re a fan of Esquire Magazine, you’re probably already familiar with this technology, as that publication used e-ink for the cover of its 75th anniversary issue last year.

All these developments have a “wow” factor at first and attract immediate attention. But beyond the novelty, whether video in print succeeds depends in large part on how closely it will mirror the website experience. In the case of a video chip touting CBS’s shows, the end result is a low-quality version of something that can be just as easily accessed at a number of web sites. Why watch standard video in a magazine when we all have multiple options for high quality video at our fingertips.

The e-ink developments have more long-term potential in that they provide multimedia content while maintaining the thin, foldable format that is the one advantage print media now has going for it over websites. Then again, as smart phones become more advanced and wi-fi networks ubiquitous, online multimedia is almost as portable as a rolled up magazine. We may have to change our entire definition of “print,” because there will soon be no reason to consume news and entertainment through old fashioned ink on paper. But if we can go digital with a material that’s just as easy to stuff into your carry-on bag, perhaps what we know as “print” can live on in the age of interactive media.

Tapping into the stream

Last time I completed an assignment for school, the year was 2004. Social media had barely budded on college campuses, much less corporate offices or mainstream media entities. Smart phones were almost the exclusive property of the business world and had yet to puncture nearly every aspect of pop culture and personal recreation. Streaming video online was nowhere near a viable way to reach a mass audience. Video games were still tethered to thumb-operated controllers. Newspapers were still turning large profits.

Yet if the pace of communications seems swift during that span, it’s but a trickle compared to the rapid stream of progress the public relations, marketing and journalism fields are poised to face in the next five years. The possibilities are exciting and dynamic, but it will require tremendous diligence and curiosity to keep pace.

I’ve started this blog and a new Twitter account to maximize my engagement in learning and practicing the latest in interactive media as a student in Elon University’s M.A. in iMedia program. The stream of new discoveries will match the breakneck pace of new developments in communications, and I’ll chronicle my new knowledge, research, projects and opinions here. I can’t wait to accelerate my understanding of connecting with audiences in an age where acceleration is constant.