Marketers Force Media to Relinquish Integrity
It seems BP (more accurately BP's agency MindShare who crafted BP's stringent "zero-tolerance policy") and Morgan Stanley have everybody's panties in a bunch over their recently publicized ad policies stipulating their right to pull ad schedules based on disagreeable editorial content. Ad Age has skewered the announcements, writing, "Shame on BP. And shame on Morgan Stanley and General Motors and any other advertisers involved in assaults on editorial integrity and independence. By wielding their ad budgets as weapons to beat down newsrooms, these companies threaten the bond that media properties have with their audiences, the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with."
We're none too pleased either. But, for all the reaction these announcements have received, there's nothing all that new. Policies such as these have been around forever. They've just never brazenly been made public. And that's the issue.
An advertiser has every right to create agreements, though not as harsh as BP's/Mindshare's, just as publishers have requirements for advertisers. Barring the harm it does to editorial integrity, as long as both sides agree, it's all good. Our concern, in addition the agreements themselves, is with the publication of these policies. When policies such as this are out there for all to see, it effectively results in BP and Morgan Stanley having near complete control over what is written about them leaving the public to wonder if anything written about them is true. Sure, a news organization can say "screw it" to their ad dollars but we all know that's unlikely. Aside from this scenario placing publishers over a barrel at the whim of marketers, these policies and general knowledge of them destroy trust. While it common knowledge that nothing is ever completely unbiased, calling attention to it in this manner just raises further concern over editorial integrity.
One could argue complete disclosure of policies such as this are a good thing. Everyone's in the know and there are no hidden agendas. But these announcements, along with a whole host of other issues continue to chip away at the nirvana of separation of church and sate that, at least in theory, grants the perception, if not the reality of honesty, uninfluenced by marketer money.
In a way, these policies are analogous to the proliferation of product placement, which in a recent episode of The Apprentice, caused Donald Trump to be forced by a marketer to add a voiceover to an episode making up for negative comments about said marketer in a previous episode. It all begs a lot of questions - who control editorial content? Who's telling the story? Who's reporting the news? Who can we believe? Is anything untainted? Toss in a bit of buzz marketing, and one wonders if it's just time to bend over and let marketers mount complete control over one's life and the editorial integrity of the media.