You’d Better Be Able to Prove It

It’s important not to go overboard when delivering presentations — for example, making claims you cannot support.

I recently attended a panel discussion that touched upon the merits of “native advertising.” Whoever made up that name has probably made a mint from it, but the fact is this tool is nothing more than what used to be called an advertorial. It’s an advertisement by a company or organization seeking to deliver its point of view by masking it as news. I won’t get into a long explanation here (an online search will reveal plenty) or a philosophical diatribe, other than to say the whole approach seems designed to blur transparency and, therefore, underhanded.

The panel consisted of representatives from news organizations with responsibility for their digital efforts (okay, one last aside: They might call themselves journalists; I beg to differ since, by their own admission, their purview also includes marketing). At any rate, here’s where the overstatement occurred. One of the panelists blithely stated that readers can tell the difference between news and sponsored content. That sounded like an interesting fact to know, so I followed up with a question from the audience asking what research she had to back up her contention. As you may have guessed, that resulted in the classic “deer in the headlights” look, followed by an admission that she was unaware of any proof. Another panelist added fuel to the fire by also confirming his lack of any such proof.

Globe, Women, Slide, Come Closer

The best part came when the whip-smart moderator asked how many in the audience thought they could distinguish between real news and paid-for news; nearly every hand went up. He then asked how many thought their neighbors could tell the difference; perhaps half raised their hands. Oops. So much for confidence in the panelist’s contention.

Things weren’t quite done yet. Another panelist, when asked about the traditional firewalls that exist between editorial (news gatherers) and advertising, acknowledged that things were changing. He then made the mistake of saying you just have to trust us that such firewalls are still in place. Again, no proof. Color me skeptical (besides, aren’t real reporters supposed to seek out proof before publication?).

Understand, I am not one to malign reporters. In my experience over many years, most are conscientious and honorable. That doesn’t mean there aren’t duds out there, and it seems that this panel was populated by a couple of them — scary since they work at international broadcast outlets with rich traditions.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that one panelist urged those in the audience to hire 25-year-olds to tend to their new media efforts. I almost go into apoplexy every time I hear this canard. New media is a set of communication tools — no more, no less. Strategy comes first, and it takes time to develop that muscle. Yes, younger people tend to be more comfortable with digital tools (though not always). But the strategic insights come with experience.

What spurious claims have you witnessed of late? How have you addressed them as an audience member?



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