So, this was suppose to be an expletive-laden rant about how newspapers don’t take good care of their resources and willingly get buttfucked by advertisers just to make the bottom line. Not that there is anything wrong with buttfucking per se, but you get the idea. Namely Delo, Dnevnik and Večer, the three leading Slovenian daily newspapers hit the stands today with what appeared to be near-identical front pages. Which would be sort of embarrassing by itself. But in this case the front pages were actually full-page adverts framed as articles about Mercator, the largest retail chain in Slovenia. And while there was small print attached indicating the pieces were actually adverts, the end result was that the three dailies all ran the same pieces with the same titles (Dnevnik being the exception with one shorter title, possibly due to space constraints), the same body texts and the same photos. Luckily, the front pages were actually faux front pages (or wraps) with a real front page and a real newspaper inside.
Today’s dailies (source)
Luckily, because this means that the newspapers and their management had not yet completely lost their bearings and sense of decency. Before today, there were other cases of wraps, although (this needs to be said) either as classic full-page adverts or running a different colour scheme and/or typography. Thus it would be unfair to say that new ground was broken or a new low reached, although it is fair to say that the ad is misleading in the sense that it masquerades as a series of articles by using the layout and typography of the real front page. True, the fine print saying “advert” is included somewhere at the edge of the field of vision, but clearly the ad aims to present itself as a genuine article and catch eyeballs. This, however, is completely in line with guidelines of the Slovenian Journalists’ Association, despite the fact that the said association issued a strong protest against the move by the three newspapers (both links in Slovenian).
At the moment pengovsky doesn’t have access to print editions of Slovenian newspapers and was initially led to believe that the wrap was the actual front page. My bad for not checking it out by myself sooner, but there you go. Drinks on me, I guess. But even with the way things are, it should be said that loud and clear that newspaper accept this sort of advertising at their own peril. I mean, yes, they gotta make money, people need to put bread on the table and all that jazz. And if you want to look at a wrap like this solely as a poorly designed advert, then by all means, do so. Nothing wrong with that.
But in the age where circulation is going down but for the select few (none of which are Slovenian, obv), where the like-fueled economy of content proliferation has failed to monetize and where website real estate is sometimes oversold to the point where only 20-or-so percent of the screen is devoted to content, the idea of “moar ads!” is dubious at best. Advertisers apparently know this, otherwise they would not have tried to imitate newspaper content, however crudely. The question is do the newspaper people know this or – rather – do they see this as their leverage or their liability. To put it crudely, are they being pressured into doing it or are they actively courting advertiser with what is essentially a print version of native advertising.
Obviously, there is no clear-cut solution to the conundrum that presents itself. Both approaches have pit-falls that are not easily avoidable. Catching eyeballs is increasingly difficult, doubly so with print. We often block out the ad sections almost subconsciously. Ad-blockers do it for us online. But doing native advertising means running the risk of blurring the line between marketing and journalism too much. First at the expense of the latter but ultimately, the former will have failed, too. Just look at the hot water BuzzFeed landed in with its native adverts.
The audience are not stupid and they can in all likelihood distinguish between an advert and news content. The problem is that the trend is moving increasingly towards blurring the difference between the two. Which is why newspapers, although understandably trying to make money and stay afloat, would do well not to dismiss the criticism of their advertising practices in an aloof or offhanded manner. After all, there is such a thing as peak advertising.
If you don’t believe that, I’ve got some prime newspaper real estate to sell you.