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Does Native Advertising Need More Oversight?
By: Mike Bush
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Let me start by saying…there are a bunch of terrific reporters, reviewers, and editors at CNET. This isn’t meant, in any way, to reflect poorly on any of them. However, the website’s most recent foray into Native Adverting should send up flags for flacks everywhere, because it significantly blurs the lines between editorial and advertising.

As reported by Brian Morrissey of Digiday, CNET is now allowing brands to purchase reviews and repackage them as ads on the CNET site. Morrissey gives a full breakdown on how these new “CNET Replays” work, and the piece I linked to is highly worth the read.

Of course, as flacks, we generally want to see our (tech) clients’ products reviewed in publications like CNET. It’s extra exposure. It’s an opportunity for an expert to weigh in on the cool gizmo or widget our client has built. It’s all of the yummy-PR benefit and goodness we generally tend to spout off when writing proposals for new potential clients.

But now, is there a greater demand on PR people to ensure those reviews are positive? If so, how do we (ethically) go about that? (Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments…I don’t have an answer here.)

This isn’t the first time that CNET has been in a position where someone could say “hey, there’s a huge financial incentive for a reviewer to be nice.”

For years, CNET has had affiliate links next to reviews.

For example, their review of the iPhone 5 has links to places where you can buy the phone. Presumably, based on the affiliate marketing model, CNET gets a commission for everyone who clicks on one of the links in the review and makes a purchase.

Looking at the numbers Digiday reported, folks who view the CNET Replay ads are SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to make a purchase (again, click on Morrissey’s story; the number is astronomical). Again, presumably, that’s because there’s a quality review form a CNET reviewer attached to it.

If that’s that case, wouldn’t someone who reads a great review about the iPhone 5 also be likely to purchase? And wouldn’t CNET, based on the Affiliate partnership, be in a position to profit more if the review is favorable?

This isn’t an accusation of any sort. Like I said when I started, CNET has some super talented writers, reviewers, and editors. But right now, as the business side looks for new ways to monetize the site, it seems like the business side is blurring the line between editorial and advertising…again.

And at the very least, it means we as PR folks should take notice of what's changing in the media. 

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About the Author
Mike Bush is a PR and Marketing freelancer with more than a dozen years of experience in the field. Find him on and connect Twitter @mikebush or at www.mikebush.nyc. 
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