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While the communications world increasingly tilts toward digital, there are opportunities to play the contrarian card with an analog tactic.

Executed right, the payoff can generate more than your fair share of attention.

That’s what SHETRANSFORMS.US strove for last week. As background, SHETRANSFORMS.US advocates for taking the gender bias out of online search. The organization wants to change how those Google algorithms see the world.

To lift mindshare for the cause, the organization put a wrapper — the type made from paper — around the printed version of USA Today. But not just any wrapper. This is how the front page looked:

 

 

Note the USA Today masthead appears exactly as it normally would as does the news teaser on the Kentucky Derby in the upper right-hand corner. It looks like the front-page feature. It looks like journalism, and many people will perceive it this way even though the word “advertisement” appears (albeit, in small type).

This is what the real USA Today looked like that day:

 

 

Is USA Today purposely trying to fool us to increase the percent of readers who explore what is the SHETRANSFORMS.US ad?

Of course, this has been going on in the digital world with sponsored content for some time. You might recall the criticism that rained down on The Atlantic back in 2013 when sponsored content on the Church of Scientology mimicked editorial. Still, the problem has persisted. Check out this example from Mashable that shapes sponsored content with the “look and feel” of journalism:

 

Sponsored-Editorial Comparison 01-22-16

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) keeps reminding publishers that dressing up ads as journalism calls for clear labeling on the product. Mary Engle, associate director of advertising practices for the FTC, explained that “For us, the concern is whether consumers recognize what they’re seeing is advertising or not.”

Good luck with this one.

The market has spoken. Fooling the reader is good business whether the medium is digital or print.

Side note: For more on the topic, check out “How Russia Fools Readers the Old-fashioned (and Legal) Way.


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