Tone of voice | Pauhu Translations' blog

Sponsored disappointment

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Media publishers who put their trust in native advertising and sponsored content apparently have a big problem on their hands. According to the Reuters Digital News Report 2015, published this summer, 33 per cent of British and 43 per cent of American respondents had been disappointed after reading an article that they only later realised were sponsored content.

Half of the respondents in both countries reported that they did not like sponsored content but accept it as part of free news content. Only 13 per cent of British respondents and 22 per cent of the Americans regarded sponsored content an interesting way to learn about topics of personal interest to them.

The message from these readers is clear: paid content should not be concealed under the cloak of journalism. The wheat must also be separated from the chaff in story-telling. Figures showing such low levels of interest indicate that native advertising still requires considerable development.

The Council for Mass Media (CMM), which monitors media ethics, recently issued a statement clarifying the difference between journalistic and commercial materials. New guidelines were hammered out by the key actors in the field from newspapers and magazines, television and radio.

The practices in various media channels have been versatile and diverse. There has been talk of sponsored cooperation, associate blogs, partner content and radio programme enablers, for instance. In one way or another, the frequently colourful terminology rather coyly blurs the fact that some external party has paid for and determined the content. On the other hand, it is implicit to the basic sacrosanct principles of journalism that editorial decision-making is never surrendered to interests beyond the editorial office.

CMM recommends that mass media uses the word ‘advertisement’ for notices, commercial messages, advertorials and other traditional commercial content, because as a term it is unambiguous and highly familiar. The word advertisement must always be used in newspapers and magazines and on radio, television and the Internet when there is a risk of confusion, or if the general public are incapable of easily differentiating whether the relevant item is an advertisement or a story. The party that pays for an advertisement is called an advertiser.

The Council noted in its statement that the traditional terms ‘notice’ and ‘advertisement’ have been shown to be overly general in native advertising, for instance, where cooperation between the mass media and its partners can be highly creative. Paid content can also be marked in this case with the term ‘commercial cooperation’, which clearly notes that journalism is not what is in question. The name of the advertiser in the same connection also indicates with whom the cooperation is being practised.

As far as commercial radio is concerned, CMM recommends that radio broadcasters distinguish between advertising and journalistic content by explaining the commercial cooperation at the beginning of the programme, at suitable moments during the programme, and at its end, as well as who the partner and programme sponsor are at the time.

The new guidelines have managed to attract a certain measure of fresh confusion and criticism. One of these misunderstandings should be corrected: not all notices need to be distinguished from other content by the word ‘advertisement’, and only in those instances when the content of the notice resembles editorial content in style. For example, the words ‘death advertisement’ need not be added to obituaries.

It should also be remembered that this concerns a recommendation: CMM will not automatically hand down a punishment if it is not observed. The Council will consequently assess the whole matter at a later stage to determine whether the advertisement content emerges clearly enough to the reader, viewer or listener.

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Badly targeted ads harm credibility

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A large retail store sends me a weekly newsletter with subjects such as "Products just for you"! You might think that the advertiser would know my preferences based on two decades of holding their loyalty card, but no! Not one of their popsicles, bags of potato chips, sausage packs or Coco Pops have found their way into our household’s shopping cart in over fifteen years.

A few inaccuracies would be acceptable – but when there isn’t one single interesting product on the list, it just seems like junk mail. When the expectations for a personal approach are high, errors hit the wrong spot much harder – which harms the advertiser’s image.

Inaccurate targeting can also be seen when using various devices. Browser-based analytics can’t keep up with my shopping habits. I often compare alternatives on my tablet computer but actually purchase the service on my laptop. Some offers appearing in my tablet computer’s browser or – even worse – in my email  – have already expired. This is really frustrating!

I think the most unpleasant ads are the ones where a company’s Facebook fans are obliged to tell others about their “likes” – “(Your friends) A, B and C like service X”. Many are not aware that they have given their permission for their names to be used. When they find out about the advertiser’s activities, almost everyone removes their “likes” for the service’s Facebook Page – and conceivably in real life as well. Unpleasant advertising eats away at the advertiser’s image as well as at people’s attitude towards advertising in general.

In Finland, 65 per cent of the population relate positively to advertising, whilst 22 per cent react negatively to ads. The common objective of the marketing communications field must certainly be to preserve or improve this situation, instead of increasing negativity with inappropriate approaches.

Digitalization has brought us many good things, but it isn’t smart to do everything just because it’s technically possible. An appealing and interesting advertisement certainly stands out from the crowd to a receptive audience. In that case, an ad doesn’t offend or irritate – even if the product itself isn’t particularly interesting to the individual.  

As old-fashioned as it may sound, Finns consider printed newspapers the most attractive advertising channel. Up to 43 per cent of Finns would prefer to receive their advertising in printed newspapers. The second most attractive channel, television, is supported by 12 per cent of the population. Social media services lag far behind, even with regard to young people.

Although people spend a considerable amount of time on social media, it’s not currently considered to be the best advertising channel. This has been confirmed by a number of research studies, such as the Finnish National Media Survey, the Community-reinforcing Media Report or even Kari Elkelä’s doctoral thesis. However, when we consider the targets of increasing interest among advertisers in the Advertising Barometer Survey, printed media clearly appears to be falling, whereas social media is increasing vigorously. The hopes and wishes of Finnish people and the intentions of advertisers are diametrically opposed to each other.

If the question was about more than sales and the resulting sustained increase of net sales, jobs and well-being of people, this would be fun. However, at the moment it’s just sad. Can advertisers really afford to irritate people by seeking their attention in ways that they don’t want at all?

Have the sales results really been so wonderful and sustainable that dislikers are simply free to go? It would be a good idea to have an open discussion on real short- and long-term results.

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Content is still king

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About ten years ago, when I was last working at a media agency, the role of a media agency was to be a broker: the most important thing was to purchase media as cost efficiently as possible. Decisions about where media funds were directed were, however, most often based on a creative concept from an advertising agency.

Today, we are first and foremost the advertiser’s asset manager, because all communication goes through the brand’s own channels, and other media act like an amplifier for the constant dialogue in question. In addition to purchasing effectively, a media agency must nowadays also, most importantly, be able to give advice on how to yield the best return on investments. 

Traditional channels, subscription newspapers and magazines or linear television, have been excellent and easy channels for distributing content. We know and understand the readers and viewers, and messages get across depending on the quality of the content – content is king.

But all the traditional channels are losing shares. After three poor years in media, measures to increase demand might almost appear to be permanently decreasing. Still, from the viewpoint of a media agency, unprecedented development is underway, where new, creative contact methods are being born faster than ever before. 

Content production or native advertising have long been favorite subjects of discussion at seminars around the world, and every advertiser already understands the importance of producing their own content. At the same time, methods of purchasing digital media are changing and automated. Programmatic advertising is growing by double digits and the amount of online video content is growing exponentially. For instance, three hundred hours of content are added to YouTube every minute!

As the Internet is an infinite universe compared to traditional channels, advertisers publishing online content may feel like they are releasing a helium balloon into the sky on May Day without knowing who will see it or where it will end up.

Producing your own content is here to stay: as consumers, we already expect to find exercise instructions, recipes, user manuals, coffee-maker maintenance instructions, travel tips, skin-care advice, enjoyable stories and all kinds of trivia online. But advertisers who want to ensure the findableness of their content have to consider distribution and search engine optimisation (SEO) already in the planning phase. Content must definitely be high-quality and significant.

But that is not enough.

Texts must be made SEO friendly and indexable, with keywords and word combinations that are being searched for. This requires expertise on the functionality of search engine algorithms. When distributing video content, all channels must be put to use, without underestimating paid advertising. As traditional advertising is a strong activator for the findableness and distribution of content you have to integrate your content into everything you do.

This is why content is still king – but no king can rule effectively without a functional court.

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Easter eggs in media

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An Easter egg is a hidden message or joke concealed in pictures, films, music, software or video games. The term, associated with the traditional Egg hunt, was coined in 1979 by Atari after the company noticed a hidden message from programmer Warren Robinett in its Adventure game.

Well-known Easter egg concealers are, for instance, film director Alfred Hitchcock, game studio Bungie, cartoonist Don Rosa and Microsoft. For example, the Microsoft Office 97 software contains a hidden flight simulator, a hidden pinball game and a hidden simulation of the Magic 8 Ball toy.

In cinema, the most common Easter eggs are cameo appearances and the much used Wilhelm scream. In some DVD movies, there are also hidden menus where you can find, for example, deleted material or concept images. Some bands also hide Easter eggs in their music. Bungie has hidden Easter eggs not only in its video games but also in its game music. An Easter egg can be concealed in lyrics or melodies, or be found by manipulating the material some way, e.g. by slowing it down or playing it backwards.

Our new Tone of Voice blog was opened at the spring equinox with a blog post by creative director Anssi Järvinen from SEK & Grey. The next blog post to be published this month will be written by managing director Clarisse Berggårdh of the IUM Finland media agency.

Happy Easter!


P.S. Hufvudstadsbladet published an article about Isis on the 22 March 2015. The picture in the article also includes an Easter egg – can you see it?

Read the newspaper story (in Swedish) here

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That’s life

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Creative director Anssi Järvinen of the SEK & Grey marketing agency opens our new Tone of Voice blog with his post about hidden advertising and the employment situation in the advertising industry. Monthly blog posts will be written by authors such as Clarisse Berggårdh, Sirpa Kirjonen, Pasi Kivioja and Matti Remes.


I was going to say something witty about professional issues. About the current state of marketing communications, the crumbling media, and their combined effect on both journalism and marketing. But my thoughts refused to come out as words onto my screen. My fingers froze on the keyboard and my thoughts were on the wrong wavelength.

My mind is wandering because of the many dramatic events lately – above all the confusion over the situation in Russia, the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and the numerous open questions surrounding it. The fear that we will never get any answers. A Finnish trial where officials try to prove their innocence of the murder of a little girl. They try to justify why eyes remained closed.

The media spews a lot of less-than-light matters, too. Even the weekend was dark. It reminded me of autumn, even though the calendar says it’s spring.

I could have written about hidden advertising and mull over how a brand who swears by transparency and wants to involve people in doing things together can resort to hidden advertising. Or to ponder the new, more presentable synonyms of hidden advertising which the aggravated media innovate for the grey zone.

I’m pondering if a brand’s behaviour includes hidden advertising, it can never build trust in its relationship with people amongst whom it wants to live, act and influence.

To avoid too much of a tight-ass attitude, I could have lightened up by saying that anyone can produce good content in the name of freedom of speech. Or content in general. In other words I could have said that collaborative blogs, native advertising and other such things are not intrinsically reprehensible forms of marketing communication. It’s more a question of how they are realised. Content produced with sly intent, designed to act anonymously without revealing its motives, is not honest behaviour.

I had also intended to write about newly examined business school graduates that have a gaping hole in their education: they are not taught what their education does not qualify them for, such as working as a copywriter or a graphic designer. Starting a debate about this issue right now, which is significant in itself, is only natural since investments in marketing communications have fallen so low that it has created a workforce oversupply like the one in the media industry.

Hiring isn’t competitive, so the best talent gravitates to the other side of the table or to other jobs entirely. I would have raised my concern about the significance of this kind of development for Finland’s competitive marketing capability, which isn’t anywhere near the level of its competitors, but it’s time for me to go to bed. With the dawn of a new day, life’s anguish abates, and my mind will be filled with bright thoughts about the current state of marketing communications and the crumbling media and their combined effect on both journalism and marketing.

That’s life. I suppose that’s what it should be like.


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The truth about Isis

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The sharp-eyed owl in our logo is a symbol of Isis, the mother goddess of ancient Egypt. As the matron of wisdom and creativity, Isis sees what we cannot perceive and ensures that the author’s creativity shines through in our translations. Do you know the story of Isis?

  1. Isis is the primal feminine force and Mother Nature. She is the matron of wisdom, creativity, knowledge, magic and love. 
  2. Isis lived among the people. She taught them many useful skills, including literacy and agriculture.
  3. The goddess is known for her thousand names – such as Aphrodite, Astarte, Demeter, Eve, Elissa, Inanna, Ishtar, Mary, Minerva, Sophia and Venus. The Cult of Isis is also known as the Madonna Cult.
  4. Even the Statue of Liberty portrays Isis. A. Bertholdi designed the statue for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. His proposal was rejected, but being a clever man he recycled his design in New York.
  5. Traditionally, Isis is celebrated as the life-giver on the first day of spring – on the vernal equinox 20 March.

With love,
Isis Translations

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Sponsored disappointment
Pasi Kivioja, Communications Expert and Founding Partner at Viestintätoimisto Luotsi; Member of the Council for Mass Media in Finland | 10.8.2015
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