8 Identifying Sponsored Content

With sponsored content, it is particularly important to locate the source of the claim before evaluating it. For example, review the headlines (below) from a popular technology magazine:

A screenshot of a page from the publication Network World. There are ten stories at the bottom of the page, but in small print under each one is an indication that they were paid for by an advertiser. The one in the upper left corner reads “Lawmakers Concerned About Insane Military Scope Released to Public” and is sponsored by “ZeroTac Tactical Scopes.”
Screenshot from the publication Network World.

Look at the headline in the upper left corner. Are lawmakers really concerned about this insane military scope? Maybe. But Network World is not making this claim (below). Note that the ZeroTac Tactical Scope company is making the claim. It is an advertisement served from another site into this page in a way that makes it look like a story.

An enlargement of the ZeroTac technical scope “article” link, showing the space below it where it indicates the sponsor.
ZeroTac Tactical Scope Article

Sometimes sponsored content contains helpful information. For example, the piece below, provides an in-depth look at some current industry trends in information technology.

An article from InfoWorld on the topic of “Integrated Systems” by a man named Paul Miller. But above the article is small text that reads “Sponsored,” and near the top of the page is tiny text that indicates the sponsor is Hewlett Packard, a company that sells integrated systems.

The source of this article is not InfoWorld, but the technology company Hewlett Packard, and the piece is written by a Vice President of Hewlett Packard, with no InfoWorld oversight. Sponsored content can be a challenge to spot, so make sure you look at the fine print above or below the article.

After you leave college and begin your career, you may be asked by your employer to find information on a topic in the fields of business, technology, or health. For example, your supervisor needs to determine whether a particular piece of very expensive office equipment would aide in streamlining a workplace process. Your job is to find articles that show whether introducing this piece of equipment will be a benefit to the office. You want unbiased information that gives both the pros and cons of introducing the equipment into the workplace. You do not want vendor-biased content at this stage of your information search.

If your employer decides to purchase the equipment, then you will investigate the various vendors and compare costs, features, service agreements, reputations, etc.

Additional Reading

3 Ways to Identify Sponsored Content By

Disclosing Branded Content: What You Need to Know


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Web Literacy for College Students 2nd Ed Copyright © 2020 by NSCC and Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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