New study by AdPR Professor Len Reid reveals extent of "advertiser pressure" on editorial content

UGA advertising professor Dr. Len Reid recently coauthored an article in the Journal of Advertising Research titled, "Advertising Pressure and the Personal Ethical Norms of Newspaper Editors and Ad Directors," which reports that pressure from advertisers to influence editorial content continues though it is often not successful.

This research study sheds new empirical light on the longstanding issue of whether advertisers attempt to influence media by asking for special favors in exchange for their advertising dollars. The study was conducted by Dr. Reid and his former doctoral student, Greg Nyilasy, now a marketing professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

To assess the influence of "advertiser presssure," Reid and Nyilasy surveyed managing editors, national news editors, regional editors, and advertising directors of both large and small U.S. newspapers. The researchers found that advertiser pressure is widespread, but some of its forms are more likely to occur than others. For example, influence attempts on content and selection are more likely than attempts to kill stories. Similarly, advertisers do not always succeed with their influence attempts; in fact, more often than not, they fail. Interestingly, advertiser pressure was found independent of newspaper circulation size, a fact that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Specifically, Reid and Nyilasy report:

  • advertiser pressure is widespread in newspapers; despite economic threats, however, advertisers succeed with their influence attempts relatively infrequently;
  • smaller newspapers do not differ much from larger ones with regard to any forms of advertiser pressure;
  • advertising directors are more permissive in their personal ethical norms for handling advertiser pressure than editors;
  • employees of small newspapers are not much more permissive in their ethical norms than those of large papers;
  • the amount of economic pressure received is positively related to ethical permissiveness.

Reid and Nyilasy note that successful "advertiser pressure” represents a serious threat to consumer interests. First, the separation between editorial and advertising content is at the core of normative journalistic and media ethics, and is comparable to the fundamental political principle of the separation of “church and state” in modern democracies. The second problem is the potential for consumer deception. If, by using this perceptual difference, advertisers actively manipulate editorial content, consumers can be deceived in their search for reliable decision information.

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