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You Say Advertisement, And I Say Sponsored Content

Yavli started out as an online advertising company. At least, that’s the way that someone like myself can understand it, but Yavli tells the story differently.

Yavli says that when it got going in 2013, it was a “sponsored content discovery” platform.

What is the difference between advertising and sponsored content? It’s simple, really.

Advertising is the paid placement of text or images in order to promote a product or service. The content of advertisements may be created by the publications in which they appear, on behalf of advertising clients, or it may be created by the advertising clients themselves.

yavliSponsored content, on the other hand, is the paid placement of text or images in order to promote a product or service. The content of sponsored content may be created by the publications in which they appear, on behalf of clients, or it may be created by the clients themselves.

You may find yourself repeating the question: What is the difference between sponsored content and advertising?

I urge you to keep asking that question.

Sponsored content is really just a kind of advertising, much as corporate underwriting on PBS and NPR is a form of advertising. It’s unwelcome visual and verbal content that people don’t seek out and try to avoid whenever they can. Advertisers like Yavli have to use bribery, coercion, or deception to get people to spend any time looking at their creations.

That brings us to the business that Yavli has moved into. The people at Yavli noticed that their online advertisements were increasingly being shut out by people who didn’t want to see them. Yavli was failing its clients, who were businesses that believed that getting a paid message in front of people’s eyes is what matters, regardless of how negatively the advertising is perceived.

Ad blocking software was a new tool being used by people to screen out advertising. There are many ad blockers available, including Untangle, Ad Muncher, Ghostery, AdFender, and AdBlock Plus. (By the way, Irregular Times has in no way been paid to promote any of these ad blockers. We don’t accept money to serve as corporate shills.)

Yavli decided to transform its business, rededicating itself to breaking ad blocker software to force advertisements on people against their will. Yavli seeks to block the ad blockers.

What’s Yavli’s excuse for this harassment? The company claims that its sponsored content advertising is somehow less intrusive than other kinds of advertising. “Ad blocking software is often used to eliminate only the most intrusive forms of advertising, however as a by-product nearly all advertising gets blocked,” Yavli says. “Many users that have ad blocking software installed are happy to see commercial messages that enhance their online experience.”

Yavli doesn’t cite any research to substantiate its claim that people who install ad blocking software and configure the settings to block advertisements actually want to see advertising. The company only refers ambiguously to “testing” that it claims to have performed itself.

One could argue that sponsored content is actually the most intrusive form of online advertising there is. Sponsored content is a form of advertising that pretends to be ordinary, non-commercial content. In a web site filled with written articles, for example, sponsored content tries to look as much like those genuine articles as possible, with the hope that readers won’t catch on that they are reading an advertisement rather than something written by the web site’s staff.

In its most insidious form, sponsored content advertising actually is written by web site staff. The New York Times does this quite often, with its supposedly professional journalists writing pro-client puff pieces in exchange for payments to the newspaper. Yavli helps purveyors of this spam to slip it past ad blocker software, to spew it across the screens of people who have already made it clear that they don’t want to see this kind of obnoxious material.

It’s a rude and crude kind of business to be in, but it’s also not very smart marketing. Spending money to chase down people to try to trick them into seeing advertisements when they’ve already demonstrated that they don’t regard advertising fondly looks like a tremendous waste of resources. Companies could, instead of playing Yavli’s cat-and-mouse game with ad blockers, work on creative ways to communicate in authentic ways with consumers, without advertising. Of course, that would require the companies to develop some understanding of cultural authenticity.

Pay-per-click marketing automation is less challenging to the exploitative data mining culture favored by the C suite.

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