Credit Suisse buys article in The New Republic to court LGBT community

There isn’t a lot of money in journalism these days. The Internet has forced the print editions of newspapers and magazines to either close down their shops or move online. And even when they do launch themselves into cyberspace, they find that people don’t want to pay for information that they can find on Twitter for free.

It doesn’t help that the traditional way to monetize online content — display advertisements, like the one below this sentence — aren’t very effective. Only 0.1 percent of banner ads are clicked; 85 percent of those clicks come from just 8 percent of Internet users.

And on mobile devices, which account for an ever-increasing share of Internet traffic, roughly half of all display ad clicks are accidental.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was wandering around the Internet on Monday night and saw this on The New Republic‘s homepage:

The New Republic homepage native ad

Right there, placed along with some of the best journalism the Internet has to offer, is a sponsored post from Credit Suisse, which paid The New Republic more than enough for that spot to cover the rest of the articles on the page — no annoying banner ads needed.

The post is part of the online journalism community’s workaround to the problem posed by no one clicking on gaudy display ads: native advertising. Native ads are posts that look like regular content that the site would otherwise publish, but are actually marketing materials either based on or fully supplied by the company that pays for the placement.

In case you missed it, John Oliver had a great explainer on native ads not too long ago:

This particular native ad was one of the less misleading ones I’ve come across. The post is categorized as “sponsored content” on the homepage, and the article itself includes a disclaimer right at the top that reads: “This article is sponsored by Credit Suisse.” So it isn’t as if The New Republic was passing off a fluff piece as an article that they would have otherwise written for free.

And yet, the ethical dilemma is still obvious: It’s a shame that one of my favorite news outlets is selling their name and reputation to a massive corporation that wants to increase its market share in a targeted audience, but without ads like these, The New Republic either wouldn’t be able to pay its bills or would have to charge a subscription for its online arm. This would take away access to its content from the vast majority of Internet users who, like me, aren’t likely to pay for their news and analysis.

The dilemma gets even murkier when the content embeds subtle references to how awesome the company sponsoring the ad is with information that I would have actually have wanted had it not been delivered in the form of an ad. Take this passage, for example:

Although much of the nation lacks laws to protect LGBT people, corporations have begun to adopt their own protective practices nationwide. In 2002, the Human Rights Campaign released the first Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which rated companies based on the inclusiveness of their sexual orientation policies. The index inspired hundreds of businesses to become more transparent, providing more information about their practices to consumers.

Credit Suisse was one of those businesses. It has had a perfect score on the CEI for 10 years in a row. Just over a year ago, though, the bank decided to go one step further than its peers. In October 2013, it released its own index to track the performance of LGBT-friendly companies. It also unveiled the Credit Suisse LGBT Equality Portfolio to allow its clients to invest in a basket of companies with high scores on the CEI and high capital appreciation potential.

The LGBT Equality Index would be pretty cool on its own, and it got its fair share of organic coverage when it launched, but Credit Suisse wants to make damn sure that you know who’s responsible for it. And, of course, they want a few more people to invest in their portfolio. That wouldn’t be so bad if it were sliced up and repackaged in a Buzzfeed listicle — by the way, Buzzfeed makes a majority of its revenue through native advertising — but when corporate humblebragging is designed to look like serious journalism, I feel like I need to take a shower after clicking through.

So what do we do? This is the nature of the business we’re in, and it isn’t likely to get better any time soon. As users become more savvy in avoiding overt ads, and as monetizing the Internet becomes increasingly competitive, news outlets are going to feel increasing pressure to take the money they can get by injecting marketing materials into their content, further blurring the line between journalism and corporatism.

After all, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • DRoseDARs

    (I’m assuming you’ve read subsequent posts) Thing is it was a single-line entry, and I can’t get it to reappear to verify it was the cause at least for me. Other people on other browsers have similar issues so I can’t speak for them.

  • mf_roe

    Try disabling Ad-Blocker Plus and reloading. Full article appears. Re enable Ad-Blocker Plus the article is truncated again. I don’t trust the internet any countermeasures that impede third party interactions get my support but I am intrigued by the fact that a posting would trigger Ad-Blocker Plus.

  • Zorba

    Ah, those deviously clever ad blockers.
    I do have have to say, for people who use the ad blockers (and I can’t really say that I blame them), they also have to realize that many of the websites they read, including this one, depend upon the revenue from the ads that are shown on their websites.
    Yes, the ads are annoying. But, would they rather have the ads shown on the websites they like, or would they rather be paying a fee to see those websites?
    It’s one or the other.
    Pay up or shut up, I guess I am saying. Some bloggers are able to blog because they have a lot of outside income, and some don’t. The more money they get from their blogs, the more time they can spend on them. It’s that simple.

  • It’s an addon problem. There’s an unclosed div tag that ad blockers will consider anything below “8 percent of Internet users.” to be an ad and block it.

  • Thom Allen

    Yeah, I can see it in your post and also when I look at the article using Firefox. But not with Safari. All on the same laptop. And, as far as I can tell, this has never happened before. I’ve always gotten the whole article, pics, links, videos, etc.

  • I’m sitting here with a laptop running Firefox and seeing what Zorba and others are seeing. You have a serious browser problem.

  • Hue-Man

    Here’s Towleroad on the Tide commercial (I saw it today on network TV). http://www.towleroad.com/2014/12/tide-gets-personal-in-new-commercial-featuring-gay-couple-bickering-about-laundry-video.html

    Although there are Canadians who are upset with gay content in commercials, they don’t have the media bull-horn that the Americans have. Everyone else has more important things to worry about.

  • DRoseDARs

    OK, fiddled with my home computer. I unblocked a number of different red entries in ABP, and one seemed to do the trick (I can see the full article, pictures, and video) but now that entry isn’t reappearing so I can’t replicate the result to verify. Partial name was postads. I’ll see if I can find the full name of the line when I get back to my other computer tomorrow. Did a cursory search on Google, and WordPress offers a WordPress In Post Ads Plugin. I don’t know if what I found for my variation of the problem applies to anyone else’s, but maybe a starting point.

  • There’s an unclosed div tag in there marked as an ad, so any ad-blocking software will effectively kill the rest of the post after “8 percent of Internet users.” So, essentially, anyone who can’t read the whole post is not contributing to the site’s income. :)

  • hidflect

    Ha! Thanks for the links. Now living in Australia I can say I’ve never seen ads like these. It seems Australia mouths all the politically tolerant rhetoric but this sort of commercial would never show here ( I think).

  • DRoseDARs

    Pictures posted in Disqus comments show up fine. However, certain plugins are designed to block certain things. I don’t have problems seeing other articles, so I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. As I mention in my apology/comment to Jon, I’ll fiddle with settings on my computer at home to help maybe figure this out.

  • DRoseDARs

    I do owe you an apology, Jon. I jumped the gun.

    FF, and I tried on 2 computers with slightly different plugins separated by 10 miles. When I get home I’ll fiddle with my computer to try to get a better idea if maybe a FF plugin is causing me problems at least. Might give better indication of whether it’s that or WordPress. (And I see Thom’s post below. He’s using Safari. That tells me it’s less likely it’s one of the plugins I use, but I’ll fiddle anyway.)

  • DRoseDARs

    “Check his/her posting history. Pretty sad.”

  • Zorba

    See my comment to DRoseDars. I posted the screen shot on that comment.
    I am wondering if you see that in my comment?

  • Zorba

    Seems strange, because some of us have been checking it out on various browsers, and so far, at least, people have said that they see the whole article using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari.
    And some don’t. Very weird.

  • Zorba

    I am getting the whole version on my desktop PC, both with Firefox, and I checked with Internet Explorer, too. And also getting it on Safari (iPad).

  • Zorba

    I don’t know, he always looks three sheets to the wind to me. Plus he always looks like he’s crying, or about to burst into tears. ;-)

  • Zorba

    I’ll see if I can download the screenshot that I am seeing.
    (It shows a Credit Suisse ad in the upper left corner, with the Gay Pride flag.)
    Plus there’s a whole lot more copy, and a YouTube of John Oliver on Native Advertising.

  • Zorba

    Yeh, I’m seeing the whole thing both on my desktop (a PC with Mozilla Firefox) and on my iPad (Safari).

  • Finn

    no, the complaint is with the poor code or CSS that is not cross-browser compatible. I see the truncated seemingly unrelated paragraphs also.

  • nicho

    And asking if you have been sufficiently medicated is just an expression, not a literal attack.

  • It’s what I’m seeing too.

  • Thom Allen

    I’m using Safari and I get the abbreviated version unrelated to the title. When I use Firefox on the same laptop, I get a much longer version with a New Republic homepage pic and a John Oliver video.

  • Moderator3

    It really appears to be a browser problem. I tried Chrome and Safari on my laptop, and they were fine. Safari was fine on my iPad.

  • I’ve been called worse ;) That said, constructive criticism is always preferred. Especially if you aren’t able to read the whole thing, as seems to be the case.

    Speaking of which, what browser are you using? This may be a WordPress issue, and it’d be good for us to know if a certain subset of our users are only able to see the first two paragraphs of all of our articles.

  • emjayay

    Odd, my computer machine shows about twenty sentences. Mostly really long and complex ones. Plus a link to a video, and a illustrative image, and a long quote section. And the headline is oddly pertinent. Maybe you need to take yours to the shop, or reinstall the browser, or something. Maybe it decided to not encourage any more non-witticism replies.

  • DRoseDARs

    Thom Allen? Sfumato1115? Are they not worthy?

  • DRoseDARs

    If you consider “Jon, are you high?” a personal attack, you must have terribly thin skin. It’s an expression, not a literal attack.

  • nicho

    Then your complaint is with your browser, because that’s not what other people are seeing.

  • Duplicate comment deleted.

  • nicho

    Personal attacks? You may want to re-read your original comment — or have an adult read it to you.

  • DRoseDARs

    This is what is on my screen, and I suspect similarly on the screens of those also questioning the article.

  • Guest

    This is what is on my screen, and probably the screens of the others questioning this article that you DIDN’T resort to personal attacks with.

  • DRoseDARs

    Personal attacks. That have nothing to do with this article, no less. Wow. Well, I did actually respect you as a commentator before now, but just wow.

  • Indigo

    You know what? That’s funny! It would never have crossed my mind to say that but once you said it, I quickly saw how neatly it fits. Good job!

  • Indigo

    I get your point but I’m not sure I’m particularly concerned about the issue, that journalism is somehow objective and detached from the content. The Brian Williams Fiasco has finally exposed the dark underbelly of “embedded” journalism, not quite the same issue as yours, but related to the larger picture of dependable journalism free of influence.

    That myth, maybe it was true back when saber tooth tigers roamed the Earth, is gone. It’s as gone as personal privacy. It doesn’t bother me, I can usually spot the self-promotions, and I embrace the antique saying “Buyer bewarer” without a gastric upset. It’s fine. We already know the journalism industry is just that, an industry, apparently filled with cheats and liars who make responsible journalists look bad. But just as serious Christians do not speak up to reject the nasty folk parading as Christians, the responsible journalists offer no comment about the narcissists among them. As we learned in Latin class 50 years ago, “Caveat emptor.”

  • nicho

    OT, but, is Speaker Boner off the wagon. At a presser on the imminent closure of DHS, he was reciting rhymes, blowing kisses at a reporter, telling someone else to get a haircut. And he looked pretty much three sheets to the wind.

    http://thehill.com/homenews/house/233959-boehner-stays-silent-on-dhs-bill

  • nicho

    Check his/her posting history. Pretty sad.

  • nicho

    You might want to edit your post after the nurse comes around with the meds.

  • Hue-Man

    Is it a chicken/egg question? It’s easy to say the BigCorp doesn’t want to be associated with the “freaks” of the 1970s (who are now collecting Social Security!) but only the most closeted businesses are unaware that lesbians and gays are now mainstream. Is it possible that Gay Inc. isn’t marketing to BigCorp, showing what the benefits are, how to do it, what changes to consider internally, etc.?

    Two examples: “Pride Toronto, the non-profit organizer of the festival, estimates that the 2013 economic impact was $286-million, and that this year will be significantly bigger.

    “It’s a huge event economically,” said Sean Hillier, co-chair for Pride Toronto, citing a study commissioned from market researcher Research House that indicates the festival created 3,470 jobs and generated $61-million in tax revenue in 2013.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/torontos-pride-festival-evolves-into-economic-powerhouse/article19284190/?cmpid=rss1

    And: Vancouver Pride’s corporate sponsors are going after the “pink dollar”. http://vancouverpride.ca/partners/

    Two gay ads – Cheerios Effect and Tide – continue to be shown in rotation on Canadian television. http://www.advocate.com/business/2014/10/04/watch-inclusive-cheerios-commercial-glimpse-future-united-states

  • 2karmanot

    If you don’t like it—move along Debbie Downer. Who needs your bs.

  • DRoseDARs

    Terribly written article is terribly written. Jon, are you high? Five sentences does not an article make, and none of those sentence has anything to do with the title. And the two links have nothing to do with the title either. Dafuq is going on here?

  • hidflect

    The “pink dollar” (as coined originally by the travel industry?) is huge. It’s surprising the targeting hasn’t been much larger, much sooner.

  • As you pointed out, it’s the nature of the beast: the world runs on moving money around, and most of that movement is generated by consumers (something the austerity freaks seem not to understand). The way producers attract consumers is by advertising.

    Anyone alive now has been inundated with advertising since infancy. And as soon as a new medium takes hold (radio, television), advertising becomes part of the landscape. As for sponsored content on news sites, think infomercials. Frankly, as long as they are labeled “sponsored content,” I have no problem with them. It’s when they stop being labeled — like so many of our politicians — that the ethical question takes center stage.

  • Sfumato1115

    I have to agree with Thom Allen: Where is the article that the headline refers to?

  • Thom Allen

    What does the article have to do with the title? No mention of LGBT, New Republic or Credit Suisse in the article at all. Nothing about them even in the links.

  • taxicolor

    Jon, you are a great writer! I love reading your articles and your contributions to this site have been a wonderful enhancement!

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