TVNZ and BrandWorld sent their new The Extra Mile masthead into the wild this week, and promptly apologised for hosting the advertorial segment on its news website. MediaWorks is playing in the masthead sandpit as well after launching a new integrated advertising platform called Focus TV late last month. And, in what it sees as branded content—and what others might see as another example of commerce encroaching further on editorial integrity—the host and TV3's ex weather presenter Toni Marsh is being called a 'reporter'.
BrandWorld, which has operated mastheads like Family Health Diary, Eating Well and Discover for many years and has become one of TVNZ's biggest advertisers, is exclusive to TVNZ on free to air channels (but is able to use other media options in pay and digital). And while MediaWorks runs other mastheads on its channels, this initiative has come out of its own integration department and is headed up by Melanie Reece and ex-BrandWorld staffer Amanda Murphy.
MediaWorks publicist Rachel Lorimer says it has already brought editorial content and commercial needs together through the likes of The Block and New Zealand's Next Top Model. She says it now has plenty of expertise in this regard when it comes to programming, so it's putting those skills to use and to create "branded content within the advertising sphere".
Like TVNZ's approach with The Extra Mile, she says the main prerequisite is that the company featured (the first two clients are Beef & Lamb New Zealand and Plumbing World) needs to have an interesting story to tell, something that might (on a slow news day, perhaps) make it into the business section. Or, like Food in a Minute, add something of value to viewers.
"The key thing is really careful selection to ensure there's a genuine story that makes sense," she says. "... I think it's nice to have this kind of branded style masthead look. I think it adds something. And we've had really good interest so far."
In addition to the TV ads, which show on weeknights before 3 News, Lorimer says they also run on Radio Live before the 3 News simulcast, across its online assets and on social media platforms, something she sees as its point of difference. It's also expected that the smartphone app Pluk will feature in upcoming campaigns.
As for blurring the line between editorial and advertising and calling Marsh a reporter, Lorimer doesn't believe it will cause any confusion among consumers.
"Toni Marsh visits key locations and talks with experts and commentators, reporting on new developments from that company which are relevant to consumers," she says. "... It’s important to note that although the stories being told are selected for their genuine news-type value, the Focus TV branding ensures a clear distinction between this and TV3’s news and current affairs programmes. She is clearly a 'Focus TV reporter'."
But there's no denying one of the major goals of masthead advertising, which taps into the desire consumers have for a 'trusted voice' (or what Sky parodied as a 'non-threatening brand spokesperson' in its very funny ads for the digital switchover), is to muddy the waters slightly by dishing up a dose of paid-for gravitas. And that's also part of the reason for the rise of the PR industry, which aims to get clients covered in the media because editorial endorsements are seen as being more powerful than traditional advertising.