Digital effects in movies look real but all the action was created on a computer. That news story or review you just read on another website? Was it fact or fiction? News on the web now has a new name– advertising.
Think Before You Click
Mashable is a monster website. As the name implies, it mashes together– mashup style– all sorts of interesting news, information, and opinion into a point and click reader fest.
As websites go, few are larger in traffic than Mashable, which ranks in the top 400, and sports a bold and brash visual esthetic reminiscent of colorful print magazines.
It takes a lot of money to produce a site like Mashable, but the revenue model works the same as it does with most websites. Advertising pays the freight.
The more web pages viewed, the more Mashable can command in advertising rates, and advertising is often the only source of revenue for digital rags.
Yet, Mashable is creative and just announced a new ad product called Social Lift. Remember, a rose by any other name is still a rose. So, an ad, by any other name, is just an advertisement.
Social Lift is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. AdWeek spilled the beans in detail. Social Lift is a branded advertisement disguised as content; as news or information, embedded within Mashable’s content, easily clicked upon by the unsuspecting masses.
Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore (the name is prophetic) In AdWeek:
We’re doing this because we see brands are already creating a lot of compelling content that they want to share on social networks, and if a brand can create things people find truly engaging on social, that’s an opportunity for us to be involved and relevant to our audience
Translation: ‘Big brand advertisers will pay big money for us to promote their message as a form of content.’
Essentially we can embed any content in this unit as long as it’s compelling… It’ll allow brands to get the lift they’re looking for on social.
Translation: ‘We’ll get big money for thinking different and further blurring the line between content message and advertising message.‘
Mashable’s mashup of internet culture is the perfect platform for Social Lift. When announcing the new advertisement gimmick, Cashmore took a position of hubris.
The first message we wanted to get across here is that we get the Internet and Internet culture. I think we were hugely successful in that.
Translation: ‘We can do this because we can and we want to. We’re just that hip.’
Here’s the problem. The line between what is newsworthy– news, information, entertainment– is further blurred by Social Lift. It doesn’t claim to be an advertisement that graces the top banner or sidebar.
No, Mashable’s Social Lift claims to be the content you think you’re getting when you click– news, information, entertainment– but is really just an advertising message. Wolf in sheep’s clothing, indeed.
Here’s the problem with online advertising. Ads are a necessity for sites to survive and prosper. That’s understood. Ads pay the freight, so to speak. However, advertising rates online are going down, so to maintain a steady revenue stream, sites need ever more page views, and ever more clicks to generate enough advertising revenue to cover ever increasing costs.
That’s a mathematical recipe for disaster. Where does it end? Where does Mashable draw the line between what is news, information, entertainment, and opinion when an advertiser’s message can be disguised as content and comes with a fat paycheck?
What you get when you click may not be what you expected. Too late. The deed is done and the deal is consummated. What’s next? YouTube videos that go viral, gain tens of millions of views, only to be identified as an advertisement for a company’s product?
When I frequent a site I like I make it a point to visit an advertiser or two. That little extra effort helps to keep them in business, and my cost to contribute is low. What I want is content– news, information, entertainment, and opinion– that is devoid of contamination by the greedy.
Advertisements can be newsworthy, inform, entertain, and display opinions– but they should not be disguised as part of the reason I visit I visit websites.