“The Huffington Post has started offering marketers the ability to inject their own paid comments among reader comments and place paid Tweets among the live Twitter feeds the site assembles around news subjects and events.”
That’s right. It appears that they want to parlay their 70 million monthly visitors into an opportunity to “double their revenue stream,” a stated goal. Moreover, the Ad Age article quotes Ian Schafer, CEO of interactive agency Deep Focus as saying:
In theory, there’s more upside in doing it that way than in buying a banner ad. With those the default behavior is to ignore them. With this the default behavior may be to pay attention.”
So, Ian. It’s better to deceive readers than to put an ad where people will know it’s paid ad? Nice.
Let’s face it. The Huffington Post leans pretty far to the left, which, as demonstrated by their popularity, clearly resonates with readers. But there so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin. It’s at best, stupid, and at worst, deceptive.
Reason #1: Paid editorial content gone awry.
In the olden days, we called this paid media. Sure, if you picked up a newspaper and saw a paid editorial that had the same typeface and font as the article surrounding it, you could figure out that it was paid. Oh – and it was clearly marked as an advertisement, not an opinion endorsed by the paper.
Greg Coleman, HuffPo’s Chief Revenue Officer (note the title) states:
“An advertiser sponsoring a Twitter subject page around the World Series might interject with relevant baseball statistics — just to earn a little good will and brand halo, he suggested. Or a health-care company sponsoring a Twitter page around health-care policy might post a paid Tweet ‘to bring to fore the facts’ but in a neutral way.“
Greg, you are either being disingenuous or you are an idiot. What pharma company is going to PAY for “neutral facts?” I can’t imagine a person in a marketing capacity for a company saying “Hey boss, I have a great idea for how we can put out our information — and pay for it — but that waters down our point of view.” That’s a steaming load of bullshit that I am not swallowing.
Reason #2: Leaders should set the pace.
There was justifiable annoyance and even outrage when the FTC announced that bloggers would need to begin to disclose paid relationships on their blogs. I blogged about this before, stating that I sincerely wish that the FTC had better things to do than to mandate common sense, but what precedent does this set when one of the leading news sites on the Web is now blurring the lines between content, marketing and public relations? Bad, bad, bad.
Reason #3: Hypocrisy, plain and simple.
HuffPo built its name and considerable audience by leaning left, and often attacking essentially any corporation or entity that they view as overly greedy or disingenuous. If you want to taint an opponent, put the word “big” in front of the industry. “Big oil.” “Big tobacco.” “Big pharma.” Read: it’s wrong to make obscene profits when the little guy suffers.
Get ready to spit out your coffee. HuffPo does not compensate its bloggers. The Wall Street Journal noted:
“The initiative is already generating discussion, not surprisingly, on Twitter, where some users wondered if the extra revenue would go toward compensating the site’s unpaid bloggers.”
So HuffPo is not paying their bloggers while attacking:
- “Big Oil”: MoveOn v. “Big Oil” McCain: Spend Our $39 Billion on Clean Energy
- “Big Pharma”: White House Confirms: Deal With Big Pharma Bars Price Negotiations
- Capitalism: “Will Obama Reboot Capitalism Anew?“
Go ahead and read these articles — they describe corporate greed and deception, profiting while the little guy gets the shaft.
So if you:
- Blur the line for “paid tweets” as part of your revenue goal to double your profit this year;
- Do so in a way that is highly suspect and disingenuous;
- Do not compensate your bloggers, presumably the “little guys”; and
- Still rail against “BIG [INSERT INDUSTRY HERE]?
it’s ok? Just so long as the rules apply to others and NOT YOU?
“…intended to sell sponsorships to lobbyists, corporations and industry associations for dinners at Ms. Weymouth’s [the paper's publisher] home, attended by Mr. Brauchli [the executive editor] and journalists covering the evening’s topic, along with government officials.”??? Pay for play in journalism.
They got busted. Hard.
At what point does the HuffPo become “Big Online?”
Shame on you, Arianna Huffington. You and your editors have wrapped yourself in the cloth of journalism while practicing the worst form of deception and hypocrisy.
Shame on you.