“They give you a thousand dollars a week. And they keep on giving you a thousand dollars a week until that’s what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you’re afraid they’ll take it away from you. It’s all very scientific. It’s based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze…”
Rod Serling, THE VELVET ALLEY
In mid-2016, with segments of the online community concerned with the ‘tone-policing’ becoming more noticeable on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, a new alternative appeared…with a slightly different marketing approach:
Presenting itself as a network based on anonymity, they touted how the platform would utilize a “natural language processing system that analyzes every piece of posted content and flags inflammatory items for removal — things like hate speech, threats and slander. Off-topic posts are moved to more appropriate sections…”
…which KINDA sounds a bit orwellian when presented so matter of factly. However, Candid decided upon a rather unique way to pitch their app to the online audience: signing up several well-known YT ‘skeptics’ to do paid native advertising for it…in their own words.
People like Armored Skeptic, shoe0nhead and The Amazing Atheist (aka the man probably responsible for Kirk Cameron’s seething hatred of bananas).
Creators known to their audiences as ‘truth-tellers‘, ‘rabblerousers‘ and ‘provocateurs’
It went about as well as expected…
As reported in outlets such as HeatStreet, backlash wasn’t immediately but harsh-YouTube personality Harmful Opinions dug deep, showed the net audience the insidious bts rationale for Candid’s AI/marketing approach, how the talent was basically mislead and (most importantly) pointed out the dubious transparency of the advertising itself.
Ultimately this is all window dressing to the heart of the matter: is it possible for people who market themselves as cynical thinkers/free speech advocates also hawk products without damaging their ‘brand’?
The answer is yes, of course-what makes the difference between success or failure is execution and transparency. The biggest issue in this is that folks who make online content basically just by talking into a camera NEED to make sure in no uncertain terms that when a video similar to their usual output is in fact native advertising:
Content creators like these tend to have more media savvy viewers that are familiar with certain tropes…including product placement.
Post-modern critical audiences are a bit more attuned to this practice than previous generations and as such are more adept at spotting it:
The issue is not sponsorship in itself but where the line is drawn between making a living and becoming a shill with shadowy ethics. Rational folks realize that it’s not unreasonable for a creator to get paid for their work-the problem comes if the line separating actual content vs paid advertising is so blurred that it comes across as disingenuous.
For instance, despite his recent problems JonTron was quite open about his sponsorships and often made them part of the joke:
And some may not realize that the first season of Saturday Night Live had in-show advertising as well:
Harmful Opinions actually laid it out in very plain and simple terms that are pretty hard to refute:
The bottom line is the degree of transparency with the audience: basically, the harder it is to determine if what you’re watching is native advertising the more likely you are witnessing a content creator whose editorial integrity might deserve a bit of questioning.
And if said creator presents themself as a free speech advocate, just realize that their voice might have a price tag that can occasionally silence it.