In-text advertising: still crazy after all these years
The Los Angeles Times’ decision to begin adding what it calls “e-commerce links” to some of its online articles is a bad one. These links abuse the line between editorial and advertising.
This type of in-text advertising has been around for many years, championed primarily by Vibrant Media with its IntelliTxt technology. The technology enables advertisers to purchase keywords that, when appearing in editorial content on a publisher’s site, automatically link to a display or text ad that pops up when a reader hovers over the word.
Editors hate these so-called “green links,” for one simple reason: they breach the church/state divide. Proponents argue that the links are added after the content is published, so there is no influence on the editorial. In addition, the keywords are double-underlined to distinguish them from regular hyperlinks. But the fact remains that these ads are integrated directly into editorial content – which should be a no-no for publishers.
Plenty of publishers, however, have given into the lure of the additional revenue these in-text ads provide. Autoweek and eWeek are just two of the sites that embed the Vibrant ads in their articles and blogs. And now the LA Times is joining the party.
The Times is not using automated pop-ups – a memo to staff published by LA Observed says that during the testing phase, the links to sponsor sites will added manually by an “e-commerce producer.” The memo also says that every article with a green link will also include a disclaimer that states, in part: “The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.”
The fact that the Times feels the need to include this disclaimer should be enough to tell you it’s a bad idea, that it does not provide a “reader service” as the Times claims but instead hampers the user experience and sullies the editorial content that the Times staff is producing.
In-text links are the worst form of digital advertising. Publishers should not use them.