Native Advertising, naughty or nice?

It’s hard to pass up an article that opens with:

When the guy who ruined the Internet with banner ads tells you that a new kind of advertising might destroy journalism, it tends to get your attention.

It certainly grabbed mine! Regardless of your opinion of banner ads, no one really wants journalism take another hit.

The new kind of advertising referenced here is native advertising.  So what is native advertising? Wikipedia defines it as: “a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and the function of the user experience in which it is placed.”

You may say, “That sounds like an old marketing method called an advertorial, what’s the problem?”

Good question, the hang-up isn’t with the concept of native advertising (see Wikipedia’s article on how it differs from advertorials), but with the execution. Some sites, like Huffington Post, keep their sponsored content separate, while others like The Atlantic, have run the risk mixing it in with regular content and have gotten caught. Chances are the general public has forgotten about mistakes like The Atlantic’s, but how many readers have they lost for good? Maybe that number is insignificant, but what about the level of influence The Atlantic holds over its readership – that’s not something you can grow with a subscription campaign.

Ben Kunz breaks down native advertising executions:

‘The Frame’ is the most innocuous of sponsored content, where an article has an intro or ending noting it is sponsored by a marketer. The sponsor acts as a wooden frame, holding the content up for your view but not in the picture. No real issues here.

‘The Insertion’ is where the actual content is produced by a marketer and mirrors real stories or videos. Examples include or The Huffington Post’s entire section of sponsored content, where Chevron writes about the future of energy or IBM notes it is a platform for sharing comments about vampire movies. Such native insertions can cause trouble, because even when the source is disclosed, the attempt of the content to look native confuses readers…

‘The Misdirection’ is a deeper level of trouble, where content is specifically designed to misdirect the source. Facebook Beacon was a classic example, in which Facebook broadcast your commercial purchases on other websites to friends. Beacon scared the wits out of Facebook users… IZEA has washed over similar rocky ground with its past paid posts, or acquisition of Be-A-Magpie, which helped marketers buy the minds of tweeters. All of this could be disclosed, but the intent is clearly to misdirect the recipient.”

Separation of journalists and advertisers was arguably more distinct during the earlier days. Davis “Buzz” Merritt notes that “At McCormick’s Chicago Tribune building, there were even separate sets of elevators for newsroom people and business people. The editor’s business-side partner, the general manager, spoke only to the editor among newsroom employees.” Lori Luechtefeld, and many others argue that the line has thinned quite a bit and has definitely been pushed too far in the wrong direction.

In an effort to present a somewhat balanced perspective on native advertising, please refer to the piece: Why content marketing should be going native, by Paul Keets, London Bureau Chief of White Light Media ( While the title suggests he is of the opposing view compared to Lori, a closer read will show that he just pushes the line of what’s acceptable further than Lori.

At the end of the day, they say honesty is the best policy, and finding a happy a happy medium is key. Marketing isn’t black any white anymore, if it ever was!


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