Advertising and Editorial Integrity
I will keep this information interesting and valuable for the non-technical viewer.
What is internet advertising, marketing and editorial integrity and how are they linked?
There’s nothing embarrassing about not knowing the ins and outs. The advertising industry is huge and everywhere yet most people don’t get involved. It exists because people want your attention enough to pay money for it. Those creating things that get attention often have ads to fund the content. For example, advertisers pay lots to be next to The Simpsons which funds the making of more episodes.
Marketing is the reason why people want this attention. If you have anything from a life-saving product to a scam then you want to present it to your target audience. This presentation is marketing and it can take many forms. banners, video, a parade, social media, almost anything.
Editorial integrity is a rare but important term. It has a simple definition of being in control of your speech but get’s complicated fast. For example, let’s pretend that Macdonalds sponsored Weight Watchers. Then Weight Watchers says that Macdonalds is more healthy than people think. The issue is that we don’t know if they are being honest. Since what they say could risk their sponsorship, it gives them a reason to lie and reason for us to not trust them. We call this a conflict of interest. It could still be true, or they may only be saying this because they got paid. We simply can’t be sure and that’s an issue. Good newspapers get around this by keeping their writers separate from advertisers. The less content produces know about who funds them, the less it can affect their work.
How bad is the state of the advertising industry?
To maintain some positivity, I will let this video sum up the face of modern internet advertising.
Advertising doesn’t have to be dishonest, even when money gets involved. The issue comes when a second currency get’s put in the mix, trust. It’s the massive difference between an ad box next to a game review saying “The game ‘Shadow of Mordor’ is awesome!” and the review itself saying that. The ad box gets a sarcastic response of “A product company says their product is good. Shocking!” What turned out to not be different in this scenario is that they were both advertisements!
For those that don’t know, Warner Brothers did in fact do this. They paid “tens of thousands of dollars” to get huge personalities on a contract requiring them to:
- Try to convince their audience to buy it.
- Keep pointing out marketing links.
- Show a “positive sentiment” in the list of content they need to make.
- Hide any bugs/glitches they find.
- Must not “communicate negative sentiment” about Warner Brothers, their employees or the game.
- Support it on Facebook/twitter.
Here are the official documents to check for yourselves. It’s not a case of them signing because they by chance happened to like it so much. Warner Brothers required that they sign before they could get the game’s review code!
Since this was a big scandal many will dismiss it as an extreme fringe example but that’s far from true. They at least tried to disclose so they are far from the worst. Take this health product’s advertising campaign for example (the video contains minor swearing).
As if paying people to hide that they’re marketing to you wasn’t bad enough, it’s for a health product! You’re meant to trust them enough to insert their object inside you yet they lie by omission. The phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” comes to mind. Despite the YouTuber presentation, it was in every meaningful way an advertisement.
For a final quick example let’s take this concept to a more technical space, PC benchmarking. It’s literally (not figuratively) a machine calculating numbers to score itself. How biased could it be? Having read this far you know the answer is a lot. A company isn’t going to keep giving you PC parts to test if you keep pointing out their shortcomings. This leads to unfair testing (like judging game performance from less demanding situations) and framing features/specs to suit outcomes. It’s the classic “8/10 it’s okay — IGN” meme where the average review is above average to avoid upsetting anyone.
How far will I go then?
As I’m only human I can’t avoid all bias or give every tiny detail before each comment, so where’s the limit? I aim to disclose anything down to a review copy. Anything smaller like a demo or bundled item (a game might come with a mini poster, playing card(s), stickers, etc.) is unlikely to cause concern. This disclosure won’t be after the content it relates to or buried at the bottom of a description box. It will go after the opening summary but before I dive into the meat of the content.
Where I may stand out from professional journalist reviewers is what it takes to cause a conflict of interest. This isn’t to say I’m going to start doing paid reviews or accepting exorbitant gifts. It’s that what I do is barely a review, let alone professional or journalistic. I still couldn’t keep a high-end laptop since it’s quite the monetary item but goodies are fine. So are preview events most of the time. If Harmonix wanted to put me in a fancy hotel, give me puff-pastries and fool about with Rock Band 4 then awesome! Since I’m an entertainer whose main content is poking fun at things, there’s much less someone can do to butter me up. I would definitely make better use of the opportunity then some have (dramatic reading of the link here).
One of the most important things all content creators should address is contracts. I for one want to know how censored they will allow themselves to be. I never want to sign a non-disparagement clause (means you can’t say negative things) for anything that may be the subject of my content. To my surprise, people normally use NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with better intent. It’s things like telling early previewers of a game to not spoil the end boss and major story parts. Since it’s not done to censor critics or free speech, it’s fine with me.
I would like to credit Dave Gorman, Peter Hadfield (AKA Potholer54) and most of all Tim Morrison (AKA Harmful Opinions) for making me aware of the state of advertising.