James Evelegh, editor of InPublishing magazine, writes in the September/October issue about the danger of publishers blurring the lines between editorial and advertising content. “Hoodwinking your readers into thinking that sponsored content is not,” he warns, “will cause lasting and irreparable damage to your brand.”
To hoodwink is a venerable English term, dating from the mid-sixteenth century when it was used literally to mean blindfolding someone by covering their eyes (in an archaic use of ‘wink’) with a hood. By the early seventeenth century it had acquired the meaning it retains today; to deceive or mislead.
There’s a lot of hoodwinking about, one way or another. I recently attended a presentation by two social psychologists talking about making small changes to processes – particularly in communication, whether interpersonal or mediated – that have a big influence.
Although they stressed the ethical parameters of their work I left feeling uncomfortable, as if what they were doing was placing an ever-so-slightly less than opaque hood over people’s eyes. In fairness, their goals appeared positive. They wanted to help the NHS save money, and hotels to reduce their environmental impact.
But I couldn’t help thinking about magicians and street performers, who also rely on the partial hooding of the wink, so to speak, in acts of deception which can be very entertaining.
Hoodwinking carries significant risk, as James Evelegh points out in the context of the publishing industry. Yet I suspect that we not only enjoy it, up to a point, but that we need it to help us deal with the complexity of life. The trick (pun intended) is to be aware of it, to know who is trying to obscure your view, if only to the tiniest extent, and why, in any given context. Including, of course, reading this blog.