Advertisers, to people: ‘Fooled ya!’

Tide started this, last year. They paid NFL players and commentators to casually insert a Tide mention while they are speaking with the fellow team members or the audiences! Imagine hearing Virat Kohli and Dhoni chatting near the stumps and Kohli suddenly says, “I’m so thirsty. Would love to have a Pepsi now!”.

Uber Eats pulled off something similar during the Australian Open.

Watch those ads in this playlist!

They even made a proud video of how exactly they fooled people into believing what was essentially a paid-for advertisement as an organic act (that people eventually, after the ‘God, I fell for it for a second!’ moment, realize is… just a darn advertisement!).

This is disingenuous marketing… the equivalent of ‘advertorial’ in print, masquerading as editorial content.

OnePlus has released such editorial-looking ads in print earlier, but they at least had a URL/address bar on top to give it a semblance of ad-like look.

Their latest ad, released in the front pages of Mint and The Hindu, on August 8th, shuns the address bar and makes it look just like editorial content.

The ads even had a byline for a ‘journalist’, who is not a journalist but an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

The onus was on both The Hindu and Mint to clearly call this out as an advertisement, but both failed to do so.

In the case of Uber Eats, I’m glad that there were protests against it and that it went to Ad Standards panel (Australian ads watchdog).

Unfortunately, in a really oddly worded decision, the watchdog cleared the ads saying, “while it may not be immediately clear within the first few seconds that it was an ad, the use of logos, disclaimers and wording after this time made it clear to most viewers. Advertisers must use caution in employing potentially confusing techniques such as this. The panel considered that this advertisement, though designed to attract attention by inducing a very temporary confusion in the viewer, is clearly distinguishable as advertising material“.

In other words, the panel seems to indicate that if audiences are fooled into watching or reading an ad because it looks so much like normal, non-advertisement programming or editorial, it is ok as long as in the end/eventually they figure out it IS a paid-for advertisement. There is a reason why advertorials call out that it is an advertisement right on top, to not start the communication by fooling people.

Given our collectively horrendous falling attention span, shouldn’t we be advocating for more upfront disclaimers than ones that come after we have consumed a piece of content? After all, what’s the fun in having people go, ‘Whaaaat? I was watching an ad?’.

The whole point of this ambush seems to be to make people think they were watching normal programming, more than talk about a product or its supposed benefits, which literally takes second priority. And then when people, ‘Bah, that was an ad?’, Uber Eats depends entirely on that feeling not being acrimonious and hopes they felt ok to be taken for a brief ride.

Imagine what forms and shape this can take in the future (and perhaps win awards): a brand pays your friend to casually insert their brand’s mention while you two are chatting up normally like every other day!

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