John Oliver on Native Advertising

by magickarp on April 2, 2015 - 4:42pm

Are representations of Native Advertising in the media ethical?
Native Advertising is an extension to traditional online advertising. Native Advertising camouflages an advertiser’s promotional material into an article, news piece or any other channel where consumers do not traditionally find advertisements. Native Advertisements are hidden advertisements that manipulate the consumer into letting their guard down and exposing them to advertisements they would not pay attention to otherwise. John Oliver covers Native Advertising in his August 3 segment. Oliver points out how deceptive Native Advertising is as it tricks viewers into walking into an advertisement unnoticed. He states that the viewer’s cannot distinguish advertisements from actual news and media content because of the incredible talent that advertisers have in crafting these native advertisements.
Now to answer the question: Are representations of Native Advertising in the media ethical? A way to look at it is to see whether or not the means of the actions taken are ethical. From a deontological point of view, the means of native advertising should determine whether or not native advertising is ethical. The purpose of the advertisers is to expose advertisements as much as possible. The means they take into doing this is by blending the advertisements with news stories or articles that viewers give more attention to. By blending in the advertisements, you are deceiving the viewers. Furthermore, deception is presenting something that is not true. It is presenting a false representation. Making someone believe in something that is not true is unethical.
John Oliver gives many examples of native advertisements through his segment. He presents an article in the New York Times about women’s lives in prisons, but at the top we see it is sponsored by Netflix to promote its original series “Orange Is the New Black”. Oliver cleverly also integrates a couple of native advertisements into his own segment. He reaches for a mountain dew from under his desk he states refreshing it is. The crowd laughs and cheers, but Oliver points out something really subtle. He notes that if he were being serious about the mountain dew, and if he were actually promoting it, the audience would feel betrayed. The members of the audience paid for John Oliver’s satire on current events and not have tacky advertisements thrown at them. So we see here how Oliver displays the dangers of native advertising.
The incredible success that native advertising has had with generating “views” has caught the attention of major marketing companies in the world. The business world focuses on generating more revenue and sometimes, that priority may come above being ethically responsible. Many businesses have a lot of money and power, and great power does come with great responsibility, but that is not the case for native advertising. It becomes hard as their core interests of revenue and profit collide with the ethical responsibilities they have to the population.
There is an article that critiques Oliver’s segment as only showing one side of the equation. It discusses that native advertising is indeed very useful to firms in increasing revenues. But it also points out that firms can indeed balance the usefulness of native advertising with their ethical responsibility to the public. Companies should focus on quality and not quantity of the amount of advertisements they put out. Companies should be conspicuous and point out sponsored content. This would not destroy the nature of native advertising, as it would be possible to have an article integrate its product and mention it is an advertisement. By deceiving the viewers, companies may even be doing some damage to their brand.
That problem is that advertisers shouldn’t be looking to just mass promote and try to get to most amount of clicks, but to offer honest and quality advertisements to their target market. Once someone falls upon a native advertisement, those who realize they have been deceived actually may generate negative feelings about the brand being advertised. So, in some instances, native advertising may backfire. The proposed solution is for advertisers to be conspicuous, stay relevant and most important, do not trick the viewer.
In all, it is unethical for companies to promote their products or services through native advertising as the means of native advertising intends to be deceptive. This violates the company’s obligation to be honest in promoting its services or products. As well the viewers of native advertisements are being manipulated and that is a violation of their agency.

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