Fox Business publishes a column on Personal Finance that is prominently promoted at the top of its homepage. But readers won’t know the content is sponsored by Credible unless they click to get to the personal finance landing page and notice the words “Powered by Credible” in the top-right corner or hover over the “Advertiser Disclosure Ad.” Or if they discover the phrase “Sponsored by Credibility” included in the thumbnail illustrations next to the headlines.
If they happen to click directly on an article, like one this week on “5 New Year’s Financial Resolutions for Beginners to Build Better Financial Habits in 2022,” they need to note the disclosure in the subtitle: “Sponsored by Credible — most of which are owned by the parent company.” Fox Corporation, which is solely responsible for its services.
Sponsored articles are often titled in ways that make them look like news. “Warren, Schumer strongly urge Biden to extend student loan tolerance and cancel debt,” for example, was posted in December. The writer is identified in her bio on Fox Business as a “Personal Financial Correspondent for Fox Business”. (Her byline also bears the disclosure “Sponsored by Credibility.”)
This reads as a straight news article so that the report, in four paragraphs, indicates the topic of the article and assumes credibility is the answer:
“With federal student loan payments set to resume in less than 50 days, borrowers may consider alternative debt repayment options such as refinancing. Note that private student loans do not qualify for federal protections such as administrative deductions, income-based repayments, and some student loan forgiveness programs. You can browse student loan refinancing rates from real private lenders in the table below, and visit Credible for offers tailored to you without affecting your credit score. “
An article in November titled “Social Security Increases May Be Offset by These Five Expenses” contains similar language:
“If you’re struggling to keep up with expenses under Social Security retirement benefits, consider taking out a personal loan while interest rates are at historic lows to help consolidate other high-interest debts. Visit Credible to compare lenders and find your custom interest rate” .
Credible receives a payment from financial institutions if customers obtain a loan, credit card, or mortgage that they have started through their website. While the pieces have the “Trusted Sponsored” logo next to the author’s name, they also appear through the Google News search engine, where the “Trusted” logo isn’t always visible. On the Fox Business website, topic pages like this one for student loans offer a mix of traditional news reporting and content sponsored by credibility.
The result is articles that can easily benefit less intelligent readers. “I’m pretty stunned,” says Chris Roach, dean of Quinnipiac University’s School of Communications and author of the upcoming book The Future of Business Journalism: Why It Matters on Wall Street and Main Street. I think the average consumer understands that content is being used to help Credible grow and to help credibility drive profits.”
Financial education is often low even among those who live in good conditions. And since people with financial problems are especially at risk, “I think that puts a huge responsibility on those who push with this kind of information to do people right,” says Jonathan Mintz, president of the Cities Trust for Financial Empowerment, an organization that works With low and middle income consumers.
The FTC says sponsored content is legal as long as it’s clearly disclosed as advertising — which Fox Business does close to the author line for each author. When I asked about the content, Fox Business sent this statement:
“FOX, like many large companies, cross-promotes its majority-owned business across its owned and managed platforms, including FoxBusiness.com. All trusted content that appears there is fully vetted internally and includes the clear legal disclosure required to ensure readers are aware that the content is sponsored by a majority-owned entity of FOX Corporation. In line with this practice, at the top of the personal finance page on FOX Business.com, it clearly states that the page is “Powered by Credible.” This is in addition to the advertiser’s disclosure that the page is Sponsored by Credible, of which FOX Corporation owns the majority of this page.”
Credible did not respond to requests for comment. Its website describes the investment of Fox Corp. It “helps us spread the word about our markets”.
Readers often do not notice the disclosures. Even for the readers Act Realizing that the content is advertising, recognizing conflicts of interest sometimes has the detrimental effect of making them trust the information more what they will do. A 2018 study in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that readers expressed greater confidence and belief in recommendations for beauty blogs when care was revealed than when there was no such rating on the content.
Yes, sponsored content and articles with affiliate links exist across the media spectrum. (Including in The Washington Post.) But it’s a good idea for a brand partner to sponsor a piece that’s clearly a promotion, and showing a product in the middle of a post can reasonably be mistaken for news content is another. Especially when the advertiser is partly owned by the organization publishing the content.
After years of writing about personal finance and reading others in the field, I think what Fox Business is doing here is wrong. The events of the last year and so on have upped the financial bet for many people. The need for trustworthy financial guidance is greater than ever. Fox Business seems to see this sad reality as a business opportunity.