The Next Step in Advertising?

by William Grosso

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Suppose you were reading an article on and you saw the following paragraph:

Linux is a different kind of opponent. It's not a company to bash but a software movement with the backing of the entire tech industry. IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ) invests billions in open source software and is backing the two leading Linux distributors, Red Hat (nasdaq: RHAT - news - people ) and Novell (nasdaq: NOVL - news - people ). (Yes, there is revenue in free software; these companies get money supporting Linux.)

Suppose further that "open source" was a hyperlink. Wouldn't you expect that clicking on the link would lead to a definition of open source? Or a Forbes article on open source? Or a list of Forbes articles on open source?

You'd be wrong. In this case, it's actually a "Sponsored Link", delivered by a company called Vibrant Media, which sends you to a company called Analyst Views (which paid for the link).

In other words, embedded as a link inside the article is a paid advertisement. Here's how Vibrant Media describes it:

"IntelliTXTsm is a pay-for-performance ad unit that delivers the advertiser’s message via contextually-relevant keywords within article-based content."

It's interesting. My reaction to it was that it felt somewhat deceptive. Things that look like hyperlinks, embedded within articles, ought not to be advertisements. It just feels too much like an attempt to disguise the advertisement as part of the article (To be fair to Forbes, if you hover the mouse above the link, you'll see a tooltip saying it's a sponsored link. And the "real" links have a slightly different look and feel-- scroll down in the article and look for Steve Ballmer)

At this point, magazines like Forbes aren't first with the news, nor are they the most comprehensive information source. Most of what they've got, and the major reason to read them, is their level of editorial credibility. Embedding "Sponsored links" within the article text, so that they look like standard links, goes a long way towards reducing that credibility with me.

What do you think? Are the sponsored links a reasonable way to generate revenue? Or are they deceptive enough that using them reduces article credibility.


2004-08-15 23:22:08
not new
I've been seeing more and more of that for at least a year, possibly longer.

It's indeed insiduous.

I've not yet seen it happen to forums and blogs, but I think it's only a matter of time before someone finds a way to automatically insert advertising links in a datastream in a dynamic fashion (so while it's being served) which will make every single hyperlink suspect of being advertising...