Have you heard the term, “native advertising?”
It’s sponsored content, to put it most simply. It’s all the rage and not at all new. Companies have been providing ads that look like editorial copy – for “advertorials” and “columns” – since as long as I can remember. And, of course, you are familiar with “informercials” on television. The only difference is that the practice has gone digital and cash-strapped media companies are much more likely today to consider trading their trust for a few red cents.
The practice came out into the open in Washington D.C. last week when some of the game’s savviest superstars appeared before a Federal Trade Commission hearing. The FTC knows how to sex up it’s branding. The hearing was called, “Blurred Lines: Advertising or Content.”
To me, it’s easy to see the boundary. If the advertising seeks to use your look and feel expressly to deceive readers – or even to inadvertently deceive – then that is unacceptable. In fact, it may be the beginning of the end of your publishing empire. If readers can’t trust you, you are sunk.
So, for me, such content would not only have to be clearly labeled, it couldn’t mimic our editorial look either. Fonts, point size, designers … they should all be different. …
Now, the issue is somewhat more nuanced if you simply argue that readers want this stuff. You aren’t deceiving a willing audience. Maybe you make the calculation that there is room on your website for all kinds of content, including native advertising. You’re not trying to fool anyone; you are just trying to feed everyone.
OK, I’m listening now. And Anne Marie Squeo makes some very good points in her column for Forbes. She says publications like ours need this money and if the FTC bans it, that money will go somewhere else.
The reality is today everyone is a publisher, not just brands. We as individuals are broadcasting over a number of digital channels to those who follow us and they in turn are doing the same. Today’s generation has had the world at their fingertips since birth and want and expect to have a personal connection with the brands they support with their business. They also want a rich and engaging experience online, a lesson marketers and news organizations alike are smart to heed.
So while it’s important to clarify what is paid and what’s not, it’s equally important not to stifle the creativity the digital world has unleashed and allows us to share.
That is a compelling argument.
For now, it’s important to think about native advertising, to be able to spot it when you see it, and to know when someone is trying to use your good name to sell their own.