Bernie Sanders Campaign Buys 'Sponsored Story' Ad on Politico

Headline of Sen. Sanders' Paid Post: 'We Must End For-Profit Prisons'

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How the Sanders campaign's Politico 'Sponsored Story' appears on mobile
How the Sanders campaign's Politico 'Sponsored Story' appears on mobile

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, which has been spending heavily on traditional broadcast media, just put money behind one of the buzziest forms of online advertising: sponsored content.

A post titled "We must end for-profit prisons" and bylined "By Bernie Sanders, Democratic candidate for President, US Senator from Vermont," was published today on Politico under a "Sponsored Story" label; the post ends with a "Paid for by Bernie 2016" line as well as a disclaimer from Politico that reads "The above column is sponsor-generated content from and paid for by Bernie 2016."

The 1,200-word post, written in traditional newspaper op-ed style, begins,

The United States is experiencing a major human tragedy. We have more people in jail than any other country on earth, including Communist China, an authoritarian country four times our size. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world's population, yet we incarcerate about a quarter of its prisoners -- some 2.2 million people.

There are many ways that we must go forward to address this tragedy. One of them is to end the existence of the private for-profit prison industry which now makes millions from the incarceration of Americans. These private prisons interfere with the administration of justice. And they're driving inmate populations skyward by corrupting the political process.

A Politico spokesperson told Ad Age that Sen. Sanders' op-ed is the "first campaign-sponsored content on Politico" and that it was provided in full by the campaign with "no input from our brand content team." A description of Politico's Sponsor-Generated Content Program explains that such content, also known as native advertising, is "produced or curated by an advertiser [and] lives on Politico and is promoted alongside Politico's own editorial content. ... Politico's editorial department has no involvement in the creation of this content."

Peter Cherukuri, exec VP-advertising and business development at Politico, told Ad Age that his team has been in discussions with "all the campaigns on the value of our native solutions" and that Bernie 2016 is the first to buy in. "We hope and expect others will follow," he said.

"This is part of a larger trend that we see political campaigns and disruptive consumer brands adopting," Mr. Cherukuri added.

Ad Age has reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment; we'll update this post when we hear back.

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.