News and Advertising

Newspapers must differentiate between news ads, otherwise the appear to endorse products

Folha is not new to receiving complaints about the advertisements published on its website. Readers have told me that they are perturbed by the advertising section at the end of articles that highlight products of doubtful effectiveness for baldness, wrinkles, impotence, or obesity. The comments gained momentum after an article in The Intercept showed how some publications profit from misleading advertising.

"Most of these products are harmless or, at most, produce very discreet results, well below what the ads promise. Folha must ban these advertisements from its website," said a reader.

The better the placement of the ad on Folha's website, the more expensive it is. A banner at the top of the homepage has a specific price versus one placed in a story.

Folha has a commercial team that sells part of the website's ads, in addition to counting on other companies that offer this type of service.

One is Google, which negotiates placements in predetermined spaces on the website pages (the so-called programmatic advertising). Google combines, on the one hand, what the advertiser seeks and how much he is willing to pay and, on the other, the profile of consumers who the site has to offer and how much it is willing to charge for space.

In this case, the newspaper proposes to deliver a number of clicks from that ad and, once the goal is reached, the advertisement is removed and replaced by a new advertiser.

In addition to Google, which dominates the market for selling ads on the Internet, other companies also focus on selling sponsored links, two of which are multinationals in the process of merging—Taboola and Outbrain.

They are the ones who create the bottom ads that try to sell useless products. In general, they keep the xepa: spaces that have not been negotiated either by the commercial department or by Google.

Antonio Manuel Teixeira Mendes, superintendent of Grupo Folha, explains that the newspaper advertises products authorized by the competent agencies, just as it does with a bank's advertisement. "Evidently, Folha can stop something that it considers homophobic, prejudiced, or racist."

One reader says that the ads running at the bottom of the reports are so bad that they certainly wouldn't make the print version. Mendes recalls that, in the once agitated section of Folha's classifieds, the menu of ads was heterogeneous, including, for example, the offer of sexual services.

Historically, advertising has always paid the bulk of traditional newspaper bills — from structure to labor in newsrooms.

In the migration to the digital environment, however, this was lost. Big tech companies like Google and Facebook have not only captured the ads but have opened the way for a significant drop in prices due to colossal audiences. With that, the newspapers had to move.

There are other financing solutions for the business, but, among traditional newspapers, the effort now is to make circulation fill the space left by advertising in revenue. This, in an environment where digital subscriptions cost about a quarter of subscriptions to the printed newspaper.

Folha does not reveal how much subscription and advertising represent revenue, but it is possible to say that the newspaper still seeks to solve the equation.

However, none of this serves as a justification for the reader to be led to confuse paid content with news. To take the example of the classifieds, they had a straightforward layout and were in a separate section from the news.

Indeed, the bricks with ads for innocuous products, lottery, or celebrities have a small label where the word "sponsored" is written in gray.

But the source used in the headlines of what is sponsored content and what is news content looks the same. The sponsored ad often appears within a set of newspaper reports under the single title: "recommended for you."

The result is that the advertisement for a slimming product framed by an image of a large belly can be easily identified, which is not the case with a more sober call, which speaks of "30 courses without monthly fees from different areas throughout Brazil".

This showcase of products of questionable effectiveness is horrible and is a far cry from the best of advertising and marketing. I don't think the ads degrade the newspaper, but the complaints, at the very least, prove that the reader's experience can be improved, so that he is not led to take the news as an advertisement.

As a reader says, the newspaper is not obliged to know if the car or service it advertises is good, but it has an obligation to inform whether a news item is news. Otherwise, it seems that there is an endorsement of the products.

Flavia Lima

Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman at Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon