Today I read an article on a site called "Elite Daily," which purports to be "The Voice of Generation-Y," entitled "How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able To Kill The Music Industry." I read it because it was about music discovery, which is an area that my company researches and that I am personally interested in.
I was not surprised to find some of our data graphically portrayed in this article, because our studies on the topic are widely cited. I was, however, surprised to note that our graph on the subject had been "redesigned." Now, I am normally (begrudgingly) accepting of this sort of thing. Research "repackagers" have been redrawing our graphs for years, helpfully removing our logo and thoughtfully shrinking the font that lists us as the source.
I always get over my initial umbrage about this, because these outlets do in fact credit us (albeit in minuscule type), do increase our reach, and the most interested parties to this research will reach out to us, if it is important. It's not the most effective source of lead generation for us, but it's lead gen, and it's a bargain I'm willing to make.
But the graph that was "redesigned" in this article was a different dog--and if it weren't for the liberties taken with our data, here, I wouldn't have dug deeper into this article. But liberties were taken, and ugliness was excavated.
The redrawn graph is above. You'll note that the "redesign" is credited to FindMySong, but the source for the data (my company, Edison Research) has been deleted. You'll also note that the sample base is impenetrable without knowing our sampling methodology, and you'll also note a number of typos, like "soure" and "These saying" (yeah, yeah--MEOW. Whatever. Our graphs don't have typos. Deal with it.)
This "redesign" did not improve the graph, or the understanding of the data. But it did thrust "FindMySong" firmly into view. So I read the article thoroughly, and noted that the article's fourth and final point was that "Millennials Are Forming Dominant Musical Teams" and that "Services like FindMySong are connecting independent musicians so they can form their own dominant songwriting and production teams."
What a coincidence, I thought. The same entity that redesigned our graph (and another posted in the same article) was also mentioned as a solution in the article. Naturally, I wondered if there might not be a connection between the author of the article and FindMySong, but the author was listed merely as "a songwriter and entrepreneur in Los Angeles, where [he builds] businesses for musicians.
I then visited the website for FindMySong, and discovered that the author was more than just "a songwriter and entrepreneur," he was also the COO for FindMySong.
Now, I don't fault him. Good on ya, hustling startup entrepreneur, for getting an article that advocates your site so prominently placed (the number of comments on the article is a pretty good indicator that he picked the right outlet.) But there is NO indication anywhere in the article that the author is the COO of the service he is advocating. So, what do we call this?
Well, the current popular vernacular is "native advertising," but I subscribe to Mitch Joel's very sensible definition of native advertising--advertising that is tailored specifically to the outlet in which it appears. An audio ad on Pandora [client!] that makes a reference to the fact that the listener is listening to a stream of music on Pandora is a Native Advertisement. This post? It could have run anywhere that text appears. So, no: this is not native advertising. Native Advertising is a pure and wonderful thing by Mitch's definition. It is very clearly advertising. And it is uniquely designed for its specific setting. I hope native advertising never goes away, despite this prediction.
So, is it then an advertorial? If you've ever read an in-flight magazine on an airline and seen an 8-page spread on "Birmingham: City of Industry!" or read a 4-page spread in Time Magazine on cholesterol presented by a pharmaceutical company, that is an advertorial. It's long-form ad copy, written by the sponsor and designed to be helpful, though clearly an advertisement. So, is this article on the music industry an advertorial? No, emphatically not. The article is NOT long form ad copy (2.5 of the article's 4 points aren't related to the author's company at all) and it isn't marked as sponsored content.
So, if it isn't native advertising, and it isn't an advertorial, what is it?
The short answer is--it's a lie. It's a lie foisted upon the consuming classes NOT by the author, who's gotta make a sandwich before the bread gets stale, but by "Elite Daily." The lie is that the author has no stake in the outcome of the article, or that the article is journalism. It may or may not be a useful article. But it sure as hell isn't presented honestly. Presenting it honestly would be at the very least to indicate that the author is the COO of the company named twice in the article as the solution to the problem the article addresses.
Again, I don't fault the author. Way to go, hustling startup COO and blogger. But Elite Daily is another story. The fact that the author of this post is the COO of the company most frequently named in the post seems like something that Elite Daily maybe should mention, even in the type face normally reserved for crediting our research on redrawn graphs. But it wasn't.
And this is part of the great lie--the oldest lie--of content marketing. I hope Native Advertising has a long, long life. It's a hell of a lot better than NON-Native, poorly tailored advertising. I also hope content marketing remains a viable enterprise for many years, as I'd rather read helpful content than pure advertising any day. I even enjoy advertorials. I've been to Birmingham. It IS a city of industry, and I appreciated what the local merchants had to tell me about it, because those articles were fully disclosed to be written on behalf of those local merchants.
But articles like the one I've excavated here? I truly hope their lifespan is limited, or (even better) the lifespan of the publications that continue to post them is limited. This isn't native advertising, and it isn't an advertorial. It's a deception.
Always keep digging, my friends. Always keep digging.