“Sponsored Links” are freaking me out!

Now that I have had my Tivo for a few months, I have been getting used to a life with less advertising. My ability to fast forward through commercials plus my use of software that blocks pop-up advertisements, has really limited the number of marketing messages that reach me. Of course, I am still waiting for the day when magazine publishers offer an advertisement-free subscription at a premium, which I would sign up for in an instant (think about that Glamor, Vanity Fair, Cooking Light, Real Simple, Renovation House, Allure, Marie Claire, People, In Style, Health and Better Homes and Gardens...it's really sick how many magazine subscriptions I have). And I know that I am being marketed to all the time, but it's subtle. I guess I had just become less aware of advertising overall.

But today, I clicked on a link to a Forbes article and saw something that really freaked me out...sponsored links. These are links in the body of the article (anyone else getting good at ignoring the ads on the sides?), complete with a marketing message delivered not only if you click the link, but also, a more abbreviated marketing message if you hover over the text. It looks like the advertisers have chosen compelling key words, but otherwise the text isn't particularly relevant to the ad.

Does this blur the line between objective journalism and advertising? Are we comfortable with the ads on the periphery, but offended when they cloud the “objective” content of our news? And even if the sponsored links have no impact on the content of the article itself, will  this create an association between sponsorship and journalism that is unpalatable to the average reader? Or is this just plain old smart guerrilla marketing? The new banner ad?

Someone has figured out how to capitalize on our compulsive need to link-click. I'm sure that this has been going on for a while somewhere but it might be too much for the mainstream. I guess you can file this under: something we have to get used to.

Comments (14)

  1. arhra [mike roome] says:

    The sad thing is, this kind of scenario is what sunk smart tags in ie6. Now we’ve got the annoying uses from advertisers, courtesy of javascript, but without the useful stuff that could have been done with smart tags…

  2. It’s only funny because it sits so close to home: http://www.ensight.org/archives/2004/08/06/sponsored-ensight-posts/.

    I have no problem with sponsored links, as long as I can visually tell that they are sponsored so I can ignore them if I so choose. I also have little problem with sponsored content provided that it’s still objective, is obviously sponsored and doesn’t dilute the rest of the content.

  3. john cass says:


    Cable television provides some good quality programming to subscribers, several internet publications provide good content for a subscription. Marketing Sherpa and SoftwareCEO.com come to mind. However even HBO and those two online publications also sell advertising. I wonder if there are enough people to around to pay the high price to sustain a workable business model for magazines without advertising. This might happen on the web though.

  4. Heather says:

    OK, as much as I love and embrace technology, I won’t read a magazine that’s not work related online. Feel free to call me a freak, but I am the same way about books that are for pleasure versus work. I like the feel of the publication and the smell of the paper. I like picking up my mail and knowing there’s a magazine in there. I know, I know…it’s a sickness. I even get mad when my mom tells me about an article in a magazine I have but haven’t read yet, or when, even worse, she gets my magazine wet or creased in some way. OK, I should stop typing now. ; )

  5. Doug says:

    If the advertizing is too intrusive, this is where I close the web browser.

    The consumer weighs the cost of the advertizing against the benefit of the article, and if the equation doesn’t work out, may never come back.

  6. Phil Renouf says:

    I think it’s kind of funny that someone who recruits for the marketing department is trying to get less marketing content in her life 😉

    I get a big kick out of that!


  7. Heather says:


    It’s more about wasting my time than a desire to not be marketed to. If the marketing keeps me from getting to the content, or distracts me from the content, that’s a problem for me. But the less invasive marketing, I am totally OK with.

    I mean, do you know anyone that WANTS to watch the commercials on TV? I don’t.

  8. Phil Renouf says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand all your points. I am really looking forward to getting the PVR that is bundled with my sat. dish. It’s just kind of funny you have to admit! 😉


  9. Heather says:

    Yeah, well, I’m all about being honest ; ) If they want to market to my demographic (professional female, 30-40, better tech understanding than average) they have to try harder! If they want my business, the have to court me ; )

  10. David says:

    I know of one magazine that has no advertising: The Believer.

    See: http://www.believermag.com/

  11. Heather says:

    David, that’s intersting. What’s their buseinss model?

  12. Jannik Anker says:

    A short comment on the "fact" that no one WANTS to watch commercials on TV (http://blogs.msdn.com/heatherleigh/archive/2004/08/09/211455.aspx#211982):

    A TV company in England actually found that there is a market for an all-commercials channel – they’re gonna mix regular commercials with "oldies" all day long…

  13. Jannik Anker says:

    – and I enjoy your blog, BTW… 🙂

  14. David says:

    The business model for The Believer magazine is the same as other typical magazines. The difference of no ads does mean higher prices: $8/issue cover price or $55/yr.

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