Everyone who watches South Park would expect to be the butt of their jokes at some point and it seems this season is the advertising industry’s turn.
The latest episode boldly, but hilariously, challenges advertising’s role in the world’s media, arguing that adverts are increasingly harder to spot and become confused with real news stories, to the point where the unsuspecting public cannot tell the difference. This is such a problem, suggests South Park, that one of the children is recruited by security services because of his superhuman rare ability to decipher which articles are ads and which are news.
As adverts adapt online, with brands increasingly moving away from invasive, efficiently targeted banner ads towards the likes of sponsored content on popular websites (HSBC has a Buzzfeed page for example – yes, really), distinguishing online between adverts and real content is an increasingly tricky challenge which can be frustrating for people who, like the residents of South Park, feel they are ‘chasing the news’.
These stealthy tactics to reach consumers have been met with sharp cynicism from the show’s writer, and the show’s loyal following will likely think they have a point. It’s easy to see why people would see these tactics as an attack on genuine content and news from advertisers more concerned about sneaking up on you in disguise to sell you something, especially as more people are turning to adblockers online.
But, are people really ‘chasing the news’ amongst a sea of adverts or are brands adding real value to the content of the online news sphere? Someone might think twice when they read an article with ‘sponsored by’ emblazoned across the header, but perhaps people do actually care about brand’s opinions. Content and advertorials often contain genuinely helpful advice which can really make a difference – just because it’s an advert doesn’t mean we should immediately discard it through cynicism.
Brands are everywhere and have a real impact in people’s everyday lives. Decisions about our finances are influenced by banking brands, and less sensible decisions about our finances are influenced by clothing, entertainment and drink brands. People choose brands because they like the benefits they bring to their lives and maybe they feel on some level that the brands they are loyal to reinforce something about their character or their image.
Are brands who are loved and upfront with their advertising annoying people with their adverts, or are you just more inclined to be annoyed by brands you don’t like, and actually enjoy the advertising from your favourite brands?
For example, Apple are revered the world over for pushing the envelope in mobile technology and design and for most people, no matter how many or where you might see their ads, we would likely value their input and give stories about them in the news as much credence as any other news. In the case of Apple, brands can shape and, make, and be the news.
Perhaps it matters what they think. Who is to say a brands’ opinion, in an area they operate in and likely have an expert opinion isn’t valuable to consumers’ lives? If it helps, if it entertains, isn’t it serving a valuable purpose? We just have to remember to take it with a pinch of salt, as you might with an opinion piece in any given newspaper.
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