John Oliver compared some of the world’s most respected news outlets to cheap pornography during his critique of advertising in the media on Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight.”
“News is like porn,” he joked. “People don’t want to pay for it on the internet, even though somewhere in a dimly lit room [New York Times author] Paul Krugman worked very hard to make it.”
“Online print publications have struggled to attract advertisers,” he continued. “One study found we only intentionally click on [banner ads] less than two tenths of one percent of the time.”
The HBO host explained how a lack of clicks for websites translates into lack of advertisement revenue, which has perhaps forced them to adopt a more Machiavellian profit model. One that tricks people into clicking on advertisements by blurring lines between sponsored content and editorial content — otherwise known as “native advertising.”
Profit-conscious outlets have embraced “native advertising” and Oliver thinks the result has been disastrous, citing The Atlantic’s controversial Church of Scientology ad as an example for how difficult it can be for consumers to decipher where sponsorship ends and actual reporting begins.
The creators of the so-called camouflaged content don’t agree with his conclusions, however. “Good native advertising is not just meant to be trickery,” says a New York Times advertising executive in a clip Oliver plays. “It’s meant to be publishers sharing its story-telling tools with marketers.”
“Exactly, exactly, ” Oliver responds. “It’s not trickery; it’s ‘sharing story-telling tools.’ And that’s not bullshit, it’s re-purposed bovine excrement.”
Oliver also took a moment to thank his network for operating on a paid subscription model, which allows him to avoid the traps of advertising all together.
“We’re extremely lucky here on HBO; we don’t have advertisers.” Oliver said. “So If I want to say Cadbury Creme Eggs are filled with dolphin sperm, or that Old Navy clothing makes you look like a tacky murderer, or that Snickers only satisfies you for about eight minutes and then makes you hate yourself for the rest of the day, I can — I can do all of those things.”