HBO satirist dissects native advertising

John Oliver questions ‘whatever’ attitude to blurred lines between ads and editorial

Native advertising, the name given to online advertorials, was recently dubbed "a terrible Orwellian Newspeak phrase for ads that look like impartial editorial" by BBC economics editor Robert Peston. Now the phenomenon has become the subject of a scathing and hilarious 11-minute attack from British satirist John Oliver.

In a segment from his HBO show Last Week Tonight now doing the YouTube rounds, Oliver says media companies claiming native advertising isn't trickery is akin to camouflage manufacturers arguing that "only an idiot" would think its products are foliage.

Oliver pinpoints the reasons (ineffectiveness of other online ad formats, consumer unwillingness to pay for news) why news publishers have embraced native ads, while he also readily admits that at subscription cable channel HBO he is “extremely lucky” that his employer has a business model that does not depend on advertising.

His comedic rant includes a clip of Time Inc chief executive Joe Ripp asserting that his editors are happier now that he has dissolved the wall between news and advertising – sometimes known in media businesses as the separation between church and state.


“No longer are we asking ourselves the question are we violating church and state, whatever that was,” he is seen telling Bloomberg TV.

“Whatever that was?” Oliver repeats incredulously.

“That’s like a surgeon saying, ‘I found this squishy thing in there, all bloody and gross, so I’ve removed it, whatever that was.’ That was the heart. That was what made the whole thing work. You need that.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics