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Advertiser Influence

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Introduction

Advertiser Influence Most of the income of for-profit media outlets comes not from their audiences, but from commercial advertisers who are interested in selling products to that audience. Although people sometimes defend commercial media by arguing that the market gives people what they want, the fact is that the most important transaction in the media marketplace--the only transaction, in the case of broadcast television and radio--does not involve media companies selling content to audiences, but rather media companies selling audiences to sponsors. This gives corporate sponsors a disproportionate influence over what people get to see or read. Most obviously, they don't want to support media that regularly criticizes their products or discusses corporate wrongdoing. More generally, they would rather support media that puts audiences in a passive, non-critical state of mind-making them easier to sell things to. Advertisers typically find affluent audiences more attractive than poorer ones, and pay a premium for young, white, male consumers-factors that end up skewing the range of content offered to the public. It is becoming harder and harder to escape from the propagandistic effects of advertising. Many students are now forced to watch commercials in school on Channel One. Even supposedly "noncommercial" outlets like PBS and NPR run ads-euphemistically known as "underwriter announcements." FAIR believes that commercial advertising should be taxed, with the proceeds earmarked to fund truly noncommercial media. ...read more.

Middle

It's hard to miss the implication that Alpha-Bits must be a great way to get kids excited about reading. This pseudo-educational theme can be seen in a McDonald's ad that underwrites New York's Channel 13 (WNET). An animated Ronald McDonald opens a book--and out flies a red Happy Meal box with familiar golden arches, transforming the bare surroundings into an animated wonderland. A voiceover tells viewers that McDonald's is "happy" to support children's television. This commercial blatantly uses the cartoon Ronald McDonald to create an animated visual link between McDonald's Happy Meals and fun. Muscling Magazines Testifying before the Federal Communications Commission in 1965, an executive of Procter & Gamble, the nation's largest advertiser, made it clear that his company had strict standards about where it put its ad dollars: "There will be no material in any of our programs which could in any way further the concept of business as cold, ruthless, and lacking all sentiment or spiritual motivation," P&G's man testified (Ben Bagdikian, Media Monopoly). "Special attention shall be given to any mention, however innocuous, of the grocery and drug business as well as any other group of customers of the company." Procter & Gamble's policy of determining what was acceptable media content might have been an exception to the rule 30 years ago, but it isn't today, according to a report by G. ...read more.

Conclusion

In this new digital environment, advertisers?ho have always itched to have a say in the content of news coverage?re finding fertile ground for blending marketing and news. Some journalists are beginning to fear that on the World Wide Web, opinion, marketing, advertising, information and news may soon weave together so seamlessly the public will no longer be able to distinguish between journalism and promotional messages. As consumers have grown more sophisticated over the past several decades, mass market advertising has become increasingly subtle and indirect. This trend has brought us such innovations as product placements in movies and TV shows, infomercials, video news releases that can be spliced into news reports, and ads masquerading as journalism through the use of news-like formats, sets and former news personalities. On the Web, a world that so far has resisted traditional advertising, ad companies are finding they have to be even more subtle to find any niche at all?nd the more they can blend advertising with useful information, the more consumers will accept it. Through focus group studies, advertisers have found that online consumers are irritated by visual display ads that take precious screen space, or demand that readers answer questions or give personal information before they can continue with their Internet search (Advertising Age, 7/22/96). So online advertisers are looking for alternative niches for ads--one of which takes advantage of consumers' need for a guide through the often bewildering array of offerings on the Web. ...read more.

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