In what looks like an open and shut case of undisclosed native advertising, Gawker Media and NerdWallet have apparently been in cahoots with promoting content through shared resources. What is this “shared resource”? NerdWallet’s content strategist, Heather Yamada-Hosely.
Reddit users TheChiefLunatic and Sodiummuffin did some serious digging into the dirt of Gawker Media. What they found out was that Heather Yamada-Hosely and other writers such as Melanie Pinola have been publishing content for Gawker while including links to NerdWallet; but all of this was done without disclosing the fact that Heather Yamada-Hosely works for NerdWallet.
After TheChiefLunatic started fishing through content after clicking on a tweet that he thought looked like a native advertisement, he found that a Q&A Gawker had with NerdWallet seemed suspiciously out of place. Upon further digging he found that Heather Yamada-Hosely lists on her LinkedIn page that she contributes to Gawker’s LifeHacker subsidiary, and has been doing so for more than a year. She’s also the chief content strategist for NerdWallet, a position that basically sees her trying to boost ways to get content for NerdWallet out to a broader audience. What broader audience can you get than through Gawker?
After making this discovery, Sodiummuffin compiled a list of articles that contained 54 conflicts of interest between Gawker and NerdWallet. The articles featured on the site link to and discuss the company in native ways without disclosing that they have employee ties to one another. Five of those articles were written by Heather Yamada-Hosely with no disclosure about her paid affiliation to NerdWallet.
NerdWallet itself is a completely separate company that makes money through commissions in financial data information products and consultation, as detailed on their “How We Make Money” page.
One of their content strategists writing for Gawker and linking back to NerdWallet content in each article is definitely a conflict of interest. You have one company with a paid employee nestled into another publishing platform getting paid to promote NerdWallet’s content without disclosure.
It’s the next step up from sponsored native advertising, which Gawker was required by the Federal Trade Commission to label clearly. As you can see in the image below, all native advertisements – which are actually ads that look like articles – have to be labeled as such.
By hiring in someone from a company looking to promote their content through Gawker, it allows them to use the excuse that it’s just an employee (or part-time contributor) writing content and not direct advertisement.
Each of the articles on LifeHacker that involves NerdWallet has follow links embedded within them.
Now sometimes native ad vendors will request that publishers add a no-follow statement to the links when a disclosure is added to the article so that posts with giant “Disclosure” and “Sponsored” tags aren’t the posts that the company is most associated with when searching up their content. According to one content strategist for a native ad vendor, she mentioned via e-mail…
“If the article must be marked as an ad then we [use a] no-follow link. If you can publish the article as your regular article then we use normal do follow link.”
In this case, since there are no disclosure statements or “Sponsored” labels on the article, they can safely build index prominence without being associated with negative connotations of sponsored content.
Essentially, this is a much slicker method of native advertising than simply having some random author publish a paid post on a Gawker subsidiary. They attempt to blur the lines by having Heather Yamada-Hosely on as a staff member while also pulling double duty at NerdWallet. The details of the partnership are still not fully disclosed but maybe we will get more insight into Gawker’s native advertising methodology after Ziff Davis takes over.