Therese Bengtsson
Therese Bengtsson
January 28, 2016

You might not know this, but a few months ago South Park decided to release a couple of episodes about the digital era of marketing, including pop-ups ads, sponsored content and native ads. The episodes got a lot of exposure and publishers such as Business Insider, Adweek and Techtimes wrote about it on their sites. Maybe, being aired in November 2015, they were just right in time considering what’s happening on the digital landscape right now.

If you want to see the episodes, watch them for free here

There’s a war coming, at least if we were to believe the latest episodes of South Park. Something is on the horizon and we need to get our heads up before it’s too late. We might think that we are in control of our own behavior but don’t be fooled, we are manipulated and controlled by disguising advertising that is only getting smarter.

“It’s our own fault”, says one of the characters in the show, “we got tired of advertising so we tried to rid them by creating ad blockers. The ads had to get smarter, and so they started to look like articles and news.”


Episodes “Sponsored content” and “Truth and Advertising” from South Park’s 19th season are both highly smart and entertaining when approaching the rise of native advertising. They speak about sponsored content as if the ads have gotten smarter than us, and that advertising on the internet is so manipulative and distracting today that we barely notice that we’re consuming it anymore.

Of course they take everything to it’s edge, trying to display advertising as the villain that deceives people into doing things they don’t even want to do. For example, when the famous group of 5 try to investigate the disappearance of their friend Jimmy by researching online, one ad pops up after the other and before they know it they’re at the store trying out new shoes and eating fries.


All ads look perfect, but make no mistake. All ads lie and all ads deceive.”

– Old News Man, South Park


That South Park plays on sarcasm is no secret, but the underlying frustration towards how much the ads have influenced our lives is definitely there. One of the villagers describes it as “It’s like I’m trying to reach for the news story but the ads are hunting me. I’m reading an article and an ad pops up, I try to click it down but it ends up expanding instead and before I know it I’m looking for hydration creams and lotion. All I want to do is read the news!”

Then he ads: “I tried to use ad blockers, but it seemed like every time I was trying to block an ad the ad just got smarter.”

However, native ads don’t stop at digital news in the world of South Park, where they have now taken human form. The village is under attack and no one is safe anymore. News cannot be trusted and people are manipulated by computers and companies trying to change their behavior and lives. Some people get killed and others have to leave their homes. How can you be safe when you can no longer trust what your read or what you’re told to be true? Who is behind everything and what is the source of every story?

Yes, South Park is satire to say the very least, but a lot of points were made about the way advertising has taken over our lives today. We are tired of swimming through an ocean of pop-up ads and pre-rolls to reach the actual content, and we have become masters at finding ways to avoid them at any cost.

At the same time, we know we aren’t ready to pay for news and other content we consume, so isn’t it only fair that what actually pays for it – the advertising – gets its share? South Park got it right, the ads have gotten smarter, and they will continue to as long as they’re still effective and return their ROI.

So instead of starting a war, why don’t we make amends? We all need to operate on the same landscape so let’s find a way to make everyone happy and content.

Studies have shown that people are willing to consume advertising as long as what they’re reading or watching is good enough, and as long as they know it’s actually an ad. The new FTC guidelines about how native advertising has to be correctly labeled is surely mirroring what’s going on in the field, and it’s more evident than ever that advertising must not be deceiving. The Guardian just announced that they are  responding to these new rules by making all their native ads labeled “paid content” or “paid by”, to rid any misunderstandings such ads might take.

Brand shouldn’t have a vested interest in hiding when they’ve sponsored stuff. They’re paying for it.”

– Sam Slaughter, Contently

We have to find a way for everyone to operate on the same platform, and ads getting smarter will only help to make it more enjoyable for everyone. Readers can skip the frustration over pop-ups taking over their windows and they can actually choose for themselves what advertising they wish to watch before a video or other content online. Ads are getting smarter, yes. But don’t start a war, make friends with them instead.