Internet: Modern-Day Whac-A-Mole
With the blessed warmth of May settling over us, we’re drawing closer to summer fair season and the ever-present games of Whac-A-Mole.
Despite this popular arcade game celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, I’ve never played it—just watched other carnival-goers smashing away in efforts to wallop the furry critters so they can add to their score. Strikes me as too much like golf.
Ironically, of late my internet surfing has taken on a similar feel. Trying to click on a story or other item of interest has turned into games of “dodge the advertising banner” that are thrust into my midst.
It’s enough to give me visions of a mole turning the tables and whacking me with a mallet.
It isn’t just banner ads suddenly appearing in the very spot where I am trying to click on a headline to read a story that caught my interest.
Companies are cleverly inserting what PR types used to call advertorials—paid advertising in the guise of news—into the midst of legitimate news copy. Today’s more familiar term is “fake news.”
The giveaway is the word “sponsored.” It leads to someone’s pitch for a product or service, or effort to elicit my email address so they can bug me further.
The presence of these intrusive elements has clogged up the inner workings of some web sites so badly that sometimes I simply close out my browser or change pages to avoid further clutter.
There’s a reason I like reading stories, which reflects my journalism training: in a fraction of the time it takes to watch a podcast I can read a summary of the event.
This reality took an interesting twist recently when I clicked on a link from my LinkedIn feed about remarks by Queens College professor Mara Einstein to an audience at Penn State University.
I interviewed Einstein several years ago for a national magazine story. I remembered her as a well-informed expert on media matters—not surprising since she was an executive at two networks and some ad agencies.
Plus, the topic of her talk—“fake news”—intrigued me. So did the title of the book she wrote last year: Black Ops Advertising, which addresses the content marketing and other covert methods of digital selling.
Irony of Fake News
One remark Einstein made summarized her talk’s point quite well.
“When we talk about fake news and advertising, it is content created by advertisers and publishers, or what we were talking about in terms of native and content marketing,” she said. “Fake news is created to generate advertising dollars.”
One example she used: custom data, a technique occasionally used by Buzzfeed that includes the use of listicles (articles made largely of lists) or videos that promote a brand or product. Yet they don’t reveal that it is an ad until the audience invests time reading the material.
However, there is an irony behind all this. When I clicked on the link and landed on the State College newspaper’s site, the first thing that greeted me was one of those intrusive videos that I regularly try to avoid.
When I checked the site again just over a week ago, up popped a banner ad, with several other pitches running down the right side of the page.
Not sure what any of us can do about it, though. I’d say the moles are winning.