The paid news phenomena in Indian media has been a subject of debate. The focus has largely been on journalists selling out to politicians by creating positive stories for a price. Brands have also done opted for this route with celebrity endorsements and brand launches dressed up as ‘news’. The belief is that the unsuspecting reader will see it as genuine unbiased reporting thus leading to positive perceptions about the brand. Of late steps have been taken to differentiate such news as ‘promotional feature’ but there still would be a large portion of the reading public which would see it as news. But if one assumes that in many brand categories opinion makers come from the upper strata of society, who openly voice their opinions in online media they seem to be against this practice. Moreover, there could be a time when there is a surfeit of such ‘promotional features’ that the consumer starts viewing every piece of brand communication with suspicion.
On a related note there was much brouhaha over an advertisement (which was clearly marked as such) from Pantene which appeared in a recent issue of India Today.
The ad has an ‘interview’ section where the winner of ‘Face of Pantene’s Blogger Contest’, Naina Redhu, is ‘in a free wheeling conversation with Katrina Kaif’. But apparently the ‘interview’ never happened. The entire conversations was cooked up, pretty much like quotes in some press releases. Naturally, Naina the ‘interviewer’ was upset and she tweeted angrily about the whole issue on Twitter. More details in this detailed blog post from @beastoftraal.
The irony is that Naina was the winner of a blogging contest from Pantene. I am assuming that she took part voluntarily because of some affinity towards the brand. In one stroke that equation has been dented. And in certain circles, influential in some way – authenticity of brand communication has been questioned. Advertising is already seen as twisting the truth and alluring people into buying things they don’t really need. Such incidents will only strengthen such notions.