Blurring The Line Between Online Ads And News Content

Blurring The Line Between Online Ads And News Content

France has joined the hunt for the perfect formula for using editorial content to draw readers to commercial brand websites.

Royal Monceau hotel produces a website that reports on cultural happenings around Paris

PARIS - Net-a-porter.com paved the way early on in France when it began sprinkling the advice of stylists on its e-commerce fashion website. The expansion of the Internet, mobile technology and social media buzz has accelerated the phenomenon as commercial brands increasingly try to double as media companies, offering text, video and audio content to be consumed as news and information.

Sebastien Genty, of the Paris-based DDB corporate communications firm, says the forces driving this growing marketing trend are irreversible. "For starters, it's about the dilution of advertising audience," he says. "It's better to create your own audience with your own content then depend on paid-for marketing, which reaches a less captive audience."

Genty says our relationship to brands has changed. "Traditional advertising of products is dying. Companies know that marketing is now about bringing more service, knowledge and entertainment," he says. Since 2008, one of Heineken's campaign slogans is precisely: "Made to entertain!"

"Content brings better referencing on Google and in return generates traffic on merchant websites," says Yan Claeyssen digital head of the ETO marketing group. Just like net-a-porter, websites increasingly mix content and sales. Etam, a French lingerie firm, made it possible for web users to buy lingerie directly from its January 24 fashion show. Meanwhile, French Connection created a "Youtique" series on Youtube that allows consumers to click through to buy clothes shown in mini-videos.

This practice of course isn't completely new. The first soap operas broadcast on the radio in the 1930s were produced by Procter & Gamble, all the way up to 2006 when French hardware outlet Leroy Merlin created its own TV channel "Telemaison."

Today, the Internet, smart phones and social networks "make it easier to reach consumers directly, without having to go through traditional media or advertising," says Claeyssen. In the US, 80% of new mothers turn to Johnson & Johnson's babycenter.com. The website is seen as the go-to stop for anything baby-related. Planet Verbaudet is trying a variation on this approach in France with its parent forums, blogs, advice and other expert analysis.

"Multibrand generalist portals like toutvousdire.com and enviedeplus.com are facing direct competition from information sites like aufeminin.com or elle.com," says Catherine Lautier, DDB's director of business research. The latest Internet ratings by Mediatmetrie-NetRatings in November ranked Facebook third (with 27.27 million unique visitors,) just behind Google and Microsoft. But it also ranked the websites of French bank group Credit Agricole (23rd), aufeminin.com (24th) and the Le Figaro Group's site (27th).

Less advertising, more content

On its website "on ose", La Redoute, a clothing firm, posts the French news agency AFP's entertainment feed. Even more ambitious, French bank Societe Generale launched the Re-View in January. This iPad application is not just another account management tool, but "a medium for information and analysis." There is an audio press review on financial news, stock quotes, the group's latest news, monthly economic analysis and even quarterly reports produced by the bank's experts.

In a very different field, the "Art for Breakfast" blog of the Royal Monceau hotel, not only provides the user with hotel events, but also writes about the Parisian art scene in general. Swide.com, Dolce & Gabbana's multimedia magazine, covers everything its clients could be interested in like travel, champagne and luxury cars.

Created by L'Agence de Contenu, the new website launched this week for the French affiliate of the Walt Disney Company, doesn't directly focus on new Disney movies or products, but everything surrounding the releases. There is no article on the release of "Tron," for example, but rather a detailed post on 3D technology and how kids perceive these images. The opening of the movie "Tangled" is handled with an article on the role of princesses in little girls' imagination. "There are no limits to what we can write about. Childhood, nutrition, environment, all are endless resources especially since Disney is trusted by parents," says Nathalie Dray, from Disney.

The true online marketing innovation is ‘brand journalism." Begun in the US by reporters looking for new jobs, this trend is now arriving in Europe. On his "A de C's' blog, David Henderson, an expert on the subject, explains that in order to be effective, brand journalism must differentiate itself from traditional PR, advertising and marketing. "It focuses on constantly retaining the public's attention with stories somehow linked to the brand and its environment, by offering in-depth articles, information and images, especially videos posted on Youtube and other websites." Daily updates, real journalistic ethics, and most of all: no press releases. For Ava Eschwege, A de C founder, a former mainstream media reporter, says that the real test "is when a brand is willing to talk about its competition."

Read the original article in French

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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