“Ads are baked into content like chocolate chips into a cookie. Except it’s more like raisins into a cookie, because no one fucking wants them there.” —John Oliver

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Black Ops Advertising: Native ads, Content, Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell (OR Books, 2016)

From Facebook to Talking Points Memo to the New York Times, often what looks like fact-based journalism is not. It’s advertising. Not only are ads indistinguishable from reporting, the Internet we rely on for news, opinions and even impartial sales content is now the ultimate corporate tool. Reader beware: content without a corporate sponsor lurking behind it is rare indeed.

Black Ops Advertising dissects this rapid rise of “sponsored content,” a strategy whereby advertisers have become publishers and publishers create advertising—all under the guise of unbiased information. Covert selling, mostly in the form of native advertising and content marketing, has so blurred the lines between editorial content and marketing message that it is next to impossible to tell real news from paid endorsements. In the 21st century, instead of telling us to buy, buy, BUY, marketers “engage” with us so that we share, share, SHARE—the ultimate subtle sell.

Why should this concern us? Because personal data, personal relationships, and our very identities are being repackaged in pursuit of corporate profits. Because tracking and manipulation of data make “likes” and tweets and followers the currency of importance, rather than scientific achievement or artistic talent or information the electorate needs to fully function in a democracy. And because we are being manipulated to spend time with technology, to interact with “friends,” to always be on, even when it is to our physical and mental detriment.

Black Ops Advertising provides a powerful cultural critique about the changing media landscape and what it now means to be a consumer of it as our (social) conversations become markets. It’s also a reality check for brands, particularly those ones that have realized that being more customer-obsessed means playing a more positive role in society and for that to go beyond an ad slogan-like hashtag.”
—Justin Kirby, curator, Best of Branded Content Marketing (BOBCM)