Every day, MrConsumer scours the Internet to find the 25 or so stories that we feature in Consumer World each week. And it should come as no surprise that Google News is a primary source. Last week, when searching for news stories one day, this was what Google News presented:
The very first result looked like a great story to bring to the attention of Consumer World readers — “10 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away Daily.” Upon clicking the link, one is brought to that story on the LA Times website:
Click on picture to expand to full size,
click resulting picture if necessary to enlarge,
and scroll to the top.
It is a very long story offering all these tips, with appropriate graphics for each one. Tip #3 caught our eye, suggesting that money could be saved on eyewear by purchasing a vision plan:
The link presented in the tip takes the reader to VSP — Vision Service Plan — where it purports to show dramatic savings on a pair of eyeglasses. And one can enroll in the plan right there.
Pretty clearly, this whole long story providing savings tips had a single purpose — to drive readers to this insurance plan. But it was a news story, right?
Scrolling back to the top of the page, the secret is revealed:
There it is. “Advertisement” in tiny letters (actual size). Did you catch it when you first looked at the full graphic above? Do you think that most people caught it?
This whole “story” that went on and on, page down after page down about eight times, was actually an ad, and not editorial content presented by the LA Times. This is called “native advertising” where the content is made to fit it more with the surrounding content on a webpage and appear less like an advertisement.
We wrote to the LA Times and explained how something like this could mislead readers. We asked some very pointed questions about this manner of presenting advertising with such a small disclaimer, how it wound up in Google as a news story, and if they were going to try to fix the problem. They responded:
“…the advertisement in question is clearly labeled as such and the only path for readers to find that content was intended to be via an latimes.com panel that is also clearly labeled as advertising. However, your inquiry brought our attention to the fact that although this ad – and others of the same ilk – is not included in our News SiteMap and the page has “noindex nofollow” directives, there appears to be a technical glitch with Google News. We are working with Google to find out why the content is indexed incorrectly and have the issue fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have removed the advertisement from our site to eradicate potential for further confusion.” — V.P. Communications, Los Angeles Times
While we are gratified that the paper acted so quickly to remove the advertisement, they seem not to have a problem with such a small disclaimer at the top. We hope they will reconsider that position, and if they continue to display advertisements that look identical to news stories, that they will take further steps to more clearly identify and differentiate that kind of content.