John Oliver on Native Advertising: It’s Gross, But This Is Our Fault

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John Oliver took on native advertising during a recent episode of "Last Week Tonight."
Image: YouTube/Screenshot

Few phrases strike fear into the hearts of media analysts and deposit dollars into the accounts of digital media companies like native advertising.

As users move away from early digital advertising products like banner ads, native advertising has emerged as an effective — and lucrative — way for websites to bring in revenue.

Native ads are typically integrated into a website’s normal content, standing out far less than other forms of display advertising. The content is often tailored to the platform and can closely resemble regular articles. Mashable engages in native advertising as well as traditional display advertising.

John Oliver took native advertising to task in a segment on Sunday in his HBO show Last Week Tonight, railing on everything from the advertising industry to consumers themselves, whose lack of willingness to pay for media, he argues, has led us to this path.

Many critics argue, as Oliver does, that at best native advertising is a form of trickery and at worst a gross violation of journalistic standards.

Like it or not, native advertising has quickly become a part of the offerings of almost every media outlet. Oliver points out that in addition to modern media operations like BuzzFeed, legacy outlets including the New York Times and The Atlantic have also ventured into the medium.

Oliver said, in response to a Times executive’s attempts to allay fears of native advertising: “It’s not trickery. It’s sharing storytelling tools. And that’s not bullshit. It’s repurposed bovine waste.”

Oliver concludes his segment with an important point. Most digital and print media organizations are not able to survive on subscription revenue, forcing them to turn to advertising. As users become more sophisticated, so must the advertising, pushing it closer to editorial content.

His solutions? Flip the whole thing on its head by integrating news into advertisements. After all, we’ve all seen how big a good viral ad can go.

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