The ethics of branded content


Sixty-four per cent of public relations professionals predict that in five years, the average consumer will not be able to distinguish between news stories written by journalists (earned media) and promotional content purchased by an organisation (paid media). That’s according to the 2018 Global Communications Report, which also found that 59 per cent believe the average person will not care if they can tell the difference between the two.

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

Forty-two percent of public relations professionals believe the trend toward “branded content” is a potential ethical issue. An even greater number (52 per cent) are concerned about the related, fast-growing practice of paying celebrities, YouTubers or Instagrammers to create content that promotes various products and brands. Public relations executives predict a decline of resources devoted to earned media over the next five years, as owned and paid media budgets continue to grow.

However, the biggest ethical issues that the communications industry is facing are fake news and purposeful distortion of the truth. Ninety-two per cent of global communications executives cited “fake news” as the most challenging ethical threat to their profession, followed by the purposeful distortion of the truth (91 percent).

The Global Communications Report is produced annually by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, in conjunction this year with Edelman, The Holmes Report, Worldcom Public Relations Group, Arthur W. Page Society, Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, International Communications Consultancy Organization, Institute for Public Relations, MCC Consulting, PRCA, PR Council, PRSA and PRSSA. See the full report at



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