Native Advertising & The Samsung Galaxy Note 4

This fancy bubble is a new footnote feature we're testing [1]

I noticed a curious article tweeted by popular British tech site Stuff last week. Titled 'Promoted: How to… run a startup from your pocket,' I clicked through to find that it was in fact a promotion for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 — a device capable of running a startup, apparently.

Where I had read the word 'Promoted' and subsequent reference to startups as perhaps a new business series the site (I admittedly don't frequent that often) was running, it turns out they had cleverly avoided using the words 'Promotion,' 'Sponsor' or 'Ad' to denote that this was a paid-for article.

Once I was into the article, a strange concoction of pro-Samsung marketing material written up in an editorial style (with little to suggest this is paid-for coverage), I realised it was not a one off. At the bottom of the post, there was an embedded link to another 'Promoted' article — '9 tips for better smartphone photography' — again, a glowing Samsung Galaxy Note 4 piece from a few days earlier. At the bottom of that, a link to another. And so on.

it seems Stuff has been running these promotions every few days throughout October, each with a link to buy the Note 4 at the end of the post.

Here are links to the ones I found (there are likely more, but you get the point):

Promoted: How to… run a startup from your pocket Promoted: 9 tips for better smartphone photography Promoted: 5 reasons to love the Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s camera Promoted: 7 things that make the most of the Galaxy Note 4's unmatched screen I don't have a problem linking to them as I'm not exactly against this kind of native advertising or tech sites making money. In fact, as Ben Thompson of Stratechery has discussed a couple of times, this is most likely the future of online advertising and if I want to pay my bills, I'm going to have to pay attention to how this stuff works.

I've written about this topic before — in relation to BuzzFeed with its 'Brand Publisher' program — as it fascinates me. Perhaps what BuzzFeed and Stuff are doing is no different to what has been done in print with advertorial content or on broadcast media with TV ads and jingles on the radio. As publishers come to terms with how best to make money online, maybe it was inevitable that the most native style of advertising would be the most successful and lucrative.

My main concern is with the clarity of the message. Perhaps, in the case of Stuff, it was because I was drawn in by an initial misinterpretation of the word 'Promoted' that I took issue with it (and maybe some of my preference for Apple products creeping in, I admit). But if the everyday consumer can't reasonably tell the difference between paid-for, promotional and biased content and genuine, newsworthy and factual coverage, it's worrisome for the future of the media as the bringers of truth (if, indeed, anyone thinks that a duty of the media anymore).

This post originally appeared on on November 5, 2014.

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