As readers of this blog know, we’re not big fans of advertorials like SustainabiliTEA — a co-production of Lipton Tea and National Geographic. But just in case you think we’re being unfairly critical of a business strategy that certainly will generate some quick cash for our Society, we offer some additional insight from Terry Heaton of Audience Research & Development.
In a post called Protecting the Stage, he writes about the death of ad-supported content and why online networks are not a good spot for advertisers.
The owner of the stage can set the rules for the performers on the stage, but when nobody sees the stage, those rules can become a net liability. … The stage is what matters to traditional media. It’s the driver of its pursuit of impartiality. An impartial stage, after all, is home to others, including advertisers, and this is no accident. The purity of the stage for advertisers is a vital concern to the people who shell out millions of dollars to be associated with it. ….[But] the essence of the network is to shun stages, not so much for the acts they bring but for all the marketing messages that tag along. This is — and will be — the essential problem for media, for ad-supported content is a business model in decay.
The “purity of the stage” — that is, the “impartiality” of National Geographic — is not only what Lipton is buying, but it’s also what’s compromised by this ad campaign. Once you grasp the rules of this new game, and read the fine print (“Special presentation brought to you by Lipton”), everything else our Society produces suddenly deserves special scrutiny: Where’s the fine print for this story or TV show? Is this a “special presentation”? an “advertorial”? some other newfangled hybrid? Who exactly is speaking to me?
But here’s the good news: National Geographic isn’t a media company. We don’t have to play by the same rules as, say, The New York Times, or TIME magazine, or the Discovery Channel. Why? Because we’re a Society with more than four million dues-paying members… right?
≡ graphic via Terry Heaton’s blog