The blending of “buzz” or branded content with factual news is of ethical concern, but I believe it will become increasingly common over the next few years. While all types of advertising can be seen as manipulative in some way, branded content is slightly more concerning because it is advertising that is disguised as news. As more news agencies and newspapers, in particular, continue to face financial setbacks, I think branded content will start to become quite appealing. This is especially true of news organizations that are having trouble selling the more traditional types of advertisements that have sold in the past.
You might think that well respected newspapers would be less likely to head in this direction because of concern for their reputation, but in 2014 The New York Times posted a story that was paid for by Netflix in order to promote the series Orange is the New Black. It in no way mentions the show, but instead looks at how the prison system in the United States does not meet the needs of female inmates.
The goal was to get people thinking about an issue that is the main premise of the Netflix show. Clever? Of course it is. The article is identified as paid content in very small text, but if you’re not paying attention, you might miss the disclaimer.
It’s important to keep an eye out as more of these types of articles start emerging. By no means is it a badly written article, but it always helps to think about where you are getting your news and information and who wants you to see it and why.