Lecture to focus on 'Black Ops Ads,' fake news disguised as unbiased information

February 28, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An expert with nearly three decades of advertising experience sees efforts by some advertisers, especially online, as the ultimate in fake news — with what looks like fact-based journalism often being the exact opposite, setting the stage for consequences that impact personal privacy, the decline of journalistic integrity, and even the end of the free internet.

Mara Einstein, a professor of media studies and director of the master’s program in media and social justice at Queens College, will share her perspectives during a free public lecture titled “Black Ops Advertising: The Corporate Creation of Fake News” at 6 p.m. Monday, March 27, in Foster Auditorium of Paterno Library on Penn State's University Park campus. Einstein’s talk is the spring 2017 Robert M. Pockrass Memorial Lecture in the College of Communications and is co-sponsored by University Libraries.

Einstein has been working in or writing about the media industry for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming an academic, she enjoyed stints as an executive at NBC, MTV Networks and at major advertising agencies. She is the author of the recent book “Black Ops Advertising: Native Ads, Content Marketing, and the Covert World of the Digital Sell” — which The New York Times called “a well-researched and accomplished book” that provides “a clear sense of what free content actually costs.” She is the author of three other books, and her work appears in academic journals and edited texts as well as in outlets such as Newsday, Harvard Business Review and Broadcasting & Cable.

Einstein (www.maraeinstein.com) is regularly quoted as a marketing expert by major media outlets and is currently working on two research projects: One examines the marketing of higher education and the other critiques the marketing of violence. In her talk, she will dissect the rapid rise of “sponsored content,” a strategy whereby advertisers have become publishers and publishers create advertising — all under the guise of unbiased information.

She believes covert selling, mostly in the form of native advertising and content marketing, has so blurred the lines between editorial content and marketing messages that it is next to impossible to tell real news from paid endorsements.

Einstein sees this as a concern because of the way many people utilize the internet and technology. As a result, she envisions the internet — relied upon for information, opinions and even sales content — as the ultimate corporate tool, with personal data, personal relationships and even identities being repackaged in pursuit of corporate profits. She argues that these concerns, combined with the changing economics of advertising dollars moving out of traditional media into digital, raise numerous social and personal consequences.

The Pockrass Lecture was named after the late Professor Robert M. Pockrass, a member of Penn State's journalism faculty from 1948 to 1977. Pockrass specialized in public opinion and popular culture, served as the graduate officer, and taught radio news writing.

  • Mara Einstein

    Mara Einstein will discuss "Black Ops Ads" -- sponsored content disguised as fake news -- during a free public lecture March 27.

    IMAGE: Matt Carr
Last Updated February 28, 2017