I’m a huge fan of of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It’s probably my favorite TV show of the last year with Inside Amy Schumer running a close second. LWT is funny, sharp, intelligent and complex. Exactly what you want out of comedy and TV. So when I saw Oliver’s take on native advertising pop up in my various feeds, I was sure it was going to be brutal.
It’s disappointing that Oliver comes across as little more than a vulgar Bob Garfield here. Not that there’s anything wrong with vulgarity, mind you. But when you reduce native advertising to the worst possible version of itself then of course it will be terrible and something that should be resoundingly mocked.
Judging all native advertising by the standards of Buzzfeed’s native advertising is like judging all television by Two And A Half Men. If you use your editorial department to create native advertising or give it an ugly design or try to hide its origins, you should stop creating it.
Anyone who does what Oliver describes is doing wrong by both the editorial and business departments. You’ve basically created more Internet garbage and ethically compromised your work.
But when it’s done well? It’s informative or entertaining and supports a brand’s overall identity. It’s notable here that “but it’s still an ad!” is the only complaint Oliver can level against the Orange Is The New Black native piece from The New York Times. Honestly, I’d rather watch any of the videos that accompany it than Two And A Half Men any day. (I’d embed them here but it’s not possible.)
Sadly, there are probably journalists in newsrooms right now that have viewed the above OITNB native content – a 1,500 word piece on women in prisons with three compelling videos alongside it – and would love to be able to do work of that caliber as a purely journalistic undertaking instead of the listicles or aggregated content they’re told is the stuff that people really want right now and will fund the newsroom’s more lofty endeavors.
Frankly, that should have been the target of Oliver’s viral rant: the race to the bottom of online content. There are plenty of supposedly pure journalistic undertakings that are as disposable and advertiser-driven as any native advertising piece. Watching “real news” organizations all try to explain what went on in an elevator between Jay-Z and Solange is far more depressing to me that native advertising.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this:
That’s native advertising. Though I’d argue it should be disclosed better which is bad for Wren, the company that made it, because it barely mentions them and only right at the beginning. But 88 million people watched it.
Incidentally, that’s about the same number of people who watched the first six seasons of Two And A Half Men. Combined.
I’ve written about making native advertising more ethical and effective before. You can read that here.