Anthony Herta · Erin Gray · Uncategorized

Buzzfeed Advertising Ethics Come Into Question

Cat videos. Quizzes. Dating advice. The listicles go on.

But, several BuzzFeed posts have been suspiciously removed — the likely culprit, pressure from its advertising partners.

In 2015, over 1,000 posts were suddenly removed, according to Gawker. Two of the most popular deleted posts criticized the board game Monopoly and a Dove soap ad campaign. Interestingly, Buzzfeed has an advertising deal with Hasbro (Monopoly’s owner) and Unilever (Dove’s owner).

Despite the advertising connection, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, claimed the two posts were deleted due to the articles containing personal opinions that violated BuzzFeed’s editorial standards — not pressure from advertisers.

Smith later retracted his statement. In a staff memo, he blamed the articles’ removal on his “pure impulse, “ not advertising pressure. The two articles were reposted shortly after the memo’s release.

But, these weren’t the only two articles under fire. In addition to these posts, BuzzFeed removed three other articles that spoke negatively of advertising partners, according to The New York Times.

The first one, Mark Duffy, former BuzzFeed ad critic, went as far as to accuse Axe body spray’s new campaign of promoting “worldwide mass rape.” Coincidently, Axe products are also a sub-brand of Unilever, Dove soap’s owner — and most importantly, an advertising partner with Buzzfeed. Duffy’s article was not only removed, but his job at BuzzFeed as well.

The second article removed, Tanner Ringerud, former business editorial staff member, criticized a Microsoft Internet Explorer ad campaign. But, this time, it wasn’t what Ringerud had to say — rather where he used to work. Hint, it starts with an M.

Because Ringerud was a former Microsoft employee, BuzzFeed’s chief revenue officer pointed out that Ringerud’s article was a conflict of interest. Shortly after, BuzzFeed initiated a “cooling off period” for employees who desired to go from the business to editorial side of the outlet, according to The New York Times. During this time, they would not be allowed to write about any ad campaigns from companies they previously worked for.

The other business related article was criticizing a Pepsi social media campaign that BuzzFeed was creating content for. Ouch.

A closer look at BuzzFeed’s code of ethics, it ensures there is a “strict and traditional separation between advertising and editorial content. The work of reporters, writers, and editors is entirely independent of our ad salespeople and their clients.”

BuzzFeed also has very specific instances laid out in the “Ad Campaigns” section of its “Ethical Guide.” Although it says being critical of ads is “fine,” posts or negative content “should not be about ads BuzzFeed’s business side has created.”

Other statements seem to directly address the backlash Buzzfeed received in the “Advertisers and Editorial Reviews” section. Whether or not BuzzFeed is advertising partners with a company, editorial staffers shouldn’t refrain from being constructive in a product review. Editorial staff members should also “never discuss a story about a company with a business-side staffer who works with that company.”

Even with these ethical changes, I still get the sense BuzzFeed hasn’t quite cracked the balance between advertiser pressure and editorial freedom.

After interning at Road&Track magazine, I saw first hand how ads from different car companies were handled — specifically Chevrolet. Despite a possible negative review, Chevrolet realized the risk and still decided to place an ad in the print magazine.

I don’t think BuzzFeed is quite there yet.

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