The Natives Are Restless: News Publishers Move Line Distinguishing Edit, Ad Content


If there is a red line delineating the church and state of journalism, some big news publishers have just crossed it -- introducing a spate of new "native" advertising formats that blur the line between advertising and editorial content in new ways, including brand-produced videos served directly in the news organizations’ video news players. The publishers, which include NBC News and Forbes, are not sheepish, much less apologetic about moving the line more to the advertisers' side of the ledger, but say it is part of an inexorable -- indeed an inevitable -- shift merging the "storytelling" of their organic journalism with those of their advertisers.

The shift, they say, is being driven by a combination of factors, including business pressures to develop new revenue models, as well as changes in the way consumers -- especially digital users -- consume and even think about news content.

As part of its redefinition of news consumers around new "persona"-based audience segments (Online Media Daily, Oct. 3), NBC News Digital is also introducing a variety of new "native formats" for advertisers to integrate their own video content directly into the same video players and formats they use to disseminate news. As blurry as that line might appear to users viewing the new ad formats on computers, they are even less distinguishable in mobile video formats where screens are smaller and some of the contextual elements that normally help viewers understand and navigate around a Web page are either missing or less apparent.

All of the new formats carry obligatory copy labeling them as "sponsored" content, but the publishers acknowledge that the goal is to make them look more "native" so that they appear more in the context of organic news content.

"Native advertising is really just more relevant advertising," explains Kyoo Kim, vice president-sales of NBC News Digital, adding: “If we can figure out how to earn a place on that infinite loop, whether it is a mobile device, a tablet, or a smart TV, then we are creating an environment and product that is more relevant to that experience."

By "infinite loop," Kim was referring to a new news consumption behavior that NBC News says it has uncovered as part of its research into the new news consumer personas, especially the so-called "Always On" consumer that is constantly connected to news feeds from the moment they wake to the moment they go to sleep, accessing it from various platforms and devices throughout their day.

Those consumers, Kim says, expect advertisers’ content to be more integrated with their overall news consumption.

Kim says NBC News still is experimenting and testing the new native ad formats, but has begun offering one dubbed "Ad Slice" as a standard ad unit. The unit looks like any of the organic video content produced by NBC News, and the news organizations sometimes even helps advertisers produce them to make sure they appear authentic. The units rotate in NBC News’ video player and are indistinguishable from the site’s organic content except for their "sponsored" labeling.

"Essentially, they become content publishers in our stream," Kim says, adding that NBC’s research indicates that its advertisers’ content sometimes generates higher "engagement" than NBC News’ own editorial content.

That's actually something that has begun happening on as well, with similar native video ad formats that it has quietly begun rolling out.

"It’s basically just like editorial content is,” explains Meredith Levien, group publisher and chief revenue officer, Forbes Media. Specifically, she says’s new video ad formats, dubbed "BrandVoice" units, are intended to be so "native" that they can actually displace Forbes' organic news coverage in its "most popular" story feeds. She says that has already happened a couple of times, including stories from SAP and NetApp.

"If it’s great, it gets a lot of page views," she says, noting that some of the BrandVoice spots have generated "80,000 to 90,000” page views, far more than’s “couple of thousand page views" average, and enough to catapult them into the "most popular" video slots, which also factor in other metrics, such as user comments and social sharing.

She expects the same for a series of new BrandVoice spots breaking this week from a surprising source for Forbes' readers: Cartier.

The campaign -- which was produced in conjunction with a Forbes staff of producers and editors, albeit a dedicated "service bureau" it has assembled specifically to work with advertisers -- focuses on the heritage of the Cartier brand and the fact that its founders were also entrepreneurs infused with a startup spirit that today’s entrepreneurs could relate to and be inspired by.

"It’s not only important to the brand, it’s how the Cartier house was founded," says Emmanuel Perrin, President and CEO of Cartier North America, adding: "It’s a family American dream story spread over three generations that any entrepreneur can relate to."

The campaign, dubbed “Make Your Move,” features interviews with contemporary entrepreneurs such as David Chang, chef and owner of Momofuku Restaurants, and Jeremy Bloom, a two-time Olympian, former NFL football player and co-founder of advertising technology company In the videos, they are interviewed by another entrepreneur, co-founder of Thrillist Media Group, Ben Lerer.  

Perrin says he believes the new native ad formats actually are more appropriate and authentic for contemporary news audiences because there has been a generational shift in the way they consume content and the way people communicate in general.

"Especially with the new generation, if it’s in advertising, it’s suspicious," he says.

Forbes' Levien says the new BrandVoice spots are part of a progression that began a couple of years ago when became one of the first news publishers to begin integrating its advertisers' stories directly in its text-based news story feeds. That program was dubbed AdVoice, which has also been renamed BrandVoice with the launch of the new native video ad formats.

She said the native formats have been a significant contributor to’s ad revenue growth, which is up 27% through the first three quarters of 2012.

As part of the rollout of the new BrandVoice formats, she said Forbes is also enabling advertisers to buy the units in a new way. As opposed to paying a flat "$1 million-plus" fee that Forbes charged advertisers under the original AdVoice program, she says advertisers can buy into it on a "site license model," basically purchasing the units on a monthly basis, so long as they commit to buying a certain amount of promotion to support their video stories. She did not disclose specific rates, but she said the costs were similar to Forbes' original flat-fee model, but prorated for the duration of the campaigns.

14 comments about "The Natives Are Restless: News Publishers Move Line Distinguishing Edit, Ad Content".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 4, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.

    It is the advertiser who provides the paper for the subscriber. It is not to be disputed, that the publisher of a newspaper in this country, without a very exhaustive advertising support, would receive less reward for his labor than the humblest mechanic. – Alexander Hamilton

  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., October 4, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.

    Great quote, Mike. And of course we all remember that Hamilton published a newspaper (The New York Post, i think), and how are they doing with all that paper those advertisers have been providing?

    I don't think anyone would argue that advertiser support is vital to journalism. But should advertising be posing as journalism? Would love to know what Hamilton would think about that.

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 4, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.

    If your creative needs to be more like editorial in order to be more engaging, what's wrong with that? And if these videos are more popular than the editorial, does that say something about the editorial product? Adult consumers are usually smart enough to know when they are being pitched a promotional story. If it's creative and gets their attention, it's still valuable content. Everyone (in this forum at least) talks all the time about advertisers needing to create this content in order to engage, and when they do, all of a sudden the hand-wringing starts. And I checked with Alexander Hamilton. He understood the need to have revenue. Then he excused himself because he had some duel thing to deal with.

  4. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 4, 2012 at 10:54 p.m.


    My point was that ultimately the publishers work for the advertisers. That's why it's called commercial media. The public is merely the legal tender in the mix. Speaking of which, just the other day you published an article that reveals precisely how little integrity this same public ascribes to the news media. We have laws mandating truth in advertising, but no such laws about news reporting! And rightly so. I mean, why should the truth get in the way of a good story?

  5. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., October 5, 2012 at 7:17 a.m.

    That's a good point, Mike. My point was whether editors and news producers ultimately should work for advertisers. The publishers of newspapers and the advertising sales organizations of TV organizations historically have worked for their advertisers, but most respected news organizations did not work directly for their advertisers, and it was that objectivity -- that explicit separation in the "church and state" of advertising and editorial -- I believe, that has made journalism tender for the public. The development I'm reporting on, is that editors and news producers are now working directly for their advertisers. That's the change. I'm not sure it's a good one. But ultimately, you are right, the public will be the judge. Re. your point about truth laws, the FTC does oversee false advertising claims, but the practice has been largely self regulated through the NAD division of the Better Business Buerau, and things like network standards and practices. And there are laws covering truth in news reporting, including both fraud and libel. And TV news organizations are regulated by the FCC and risk losing their broadcast licenses.

  6. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 5, 2012 at 10:01 a.m.


    My point is that the editors and news producers already work for the advertisers. Ever seen a restaurant review in a newspaper for a restaurant that didn't advertiser there? And the morning newspaper in my old stomping grounds made no bones about it, proudly calling itself the Honolulu Advertiser.

    The only semblance of separation of church and state remaining in the newspaper biz is the absence of advertising on the editorial page, but that has less to do with journalistic integrity than it does with protection of the advertiser from some whacko editorial opinion. Clearly, if it bleeds, it leads. Always has and always will.

    The fact is, the advertiser shoulders all of the risk in this give and take. And as for industry self-regulation, whatever became of those empty promises about more educational programming and less sex and violence on TV?

    On a real cynical closing note, in a consumer society like ours, fueled by commercial media, the case can be made that advertising is the most essential content of all.

  7. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., October 5, 2012 at 10:14 a.m.

    Mike, I totally understand your point. I just don't agree with it. You define "news" differently than I do. I think the examples you cite -- restaurant reviews, etc., are all good examples of publishing. And advertisers and brands clearly are (and always have been) publishers. The shifting line I was reporting on was the line delineating what constitutes "news" produced and reported by professional journalists in bona fide news organizations -- print, broadcast or online. I think it's okay for brands to utilize journalistic principles and techniques to tell their stories, and there are some great examples of brands doing that. (Check out Digitas' "Brand Live" newsroom for P&G. It's a great example of brands tapping news on their own behalf. But they don't attempt to confuse consumers that it's actually journalism coming from news editors or producers.) That's where the line is shifting -- that news organizations are so strapped that they're actually producing stories for brands and conveying them in a way that appears to be objective journalism. That is a new development, and one worth thinking about, because I believe in the long run that will harm the credibility of the news organizations that are the conduit for those brands that want to be associated with them in the first place. It's all about lines, and I think we're in the process of crossing a new one. JMHO. But check out George Simpson's piece, because I think he makes some excellent points too:

  8. Grant Crowell from, October 5, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.

    Joe, regarding your question about whether editors and news producers ultimately should work for advertisers, I think we can agree that it does hurt the integrity of the news organization who's appeal to consumers is built around trust. I actually don't have an issue with it so much as long as there is clear and conspicuous disclosure per FTC guidelines, but it will take a lot of consumers getting used to the idea of content marketing taking over traditional journalism. The fact is, news organizations are first and foremost a business, that capitalize on the trust they've built over time and sell it off when times are tough (and they've been tough for a very, very long time). The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that trust in media is at an all time low since they first started doing their reports 12 years ago. If news organizations can't proper full disclosure with consumers over their sponsored content, then they will continue to lose audiences and no amount of advertising can stop them from going under.

  9. Rafael Cosentino from Telanya, October 5, 2012 at noon

    Perhaps the shock is that the advertising is delivered in a new format but as long as its clearly marked as "sponsored" or "advertising" then there really shouldn't be a any editorial issues. I am glad to see publisher's embracing alternatives to banners and typical display advertising. And they need to in order to be able to provide their advertisers with an ROI which will garner the publisher's the types of rates they need to support their content creation and distribution efforts.

  10. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 5, 2012 at 1:12 p.m.

    Joe et al,

    In my humble opinion, you all still miss the point. In the commercial media equation, the advertisers are the guys picking up the bulk of the tab - in many cases, the entire tab. They're the guys literally investing in trust. They're also the ones shouldering the real risk associated with dissemination of the "news", and only they can suffer from closer association with it. For example, a big Catholic hospital spending a bunch of money in a local newspaper that suddenly finds itself way too close to a story about a pedophile priest. Or Toyota finding itself the de facto sponsor of "editorial" about its own latest recall. The publisher, by contrast, is only the messenger, and we all know you don't shoot the messenger. We don't have to. This persistence on control of the "news" environment is tantamount to the publishers shooting themselves.

    Check the traffic to local TV station and newspaper sites and you'll see that it's the information offerings - sports, entertainment, features - that get the hits, leading me to conclude that editorial integrity is the tail wagging a very sick dog.

    BTW, "bona fide", like journalistic integrity,is in the eyes of the beholder.

  11. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., October 5, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.

    Mike, I cannot speak for et al, but for the last time, I completely get your point. I just don't agree with it.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 5, 2012 at 8:58 p.m.

    There was no bigger jumping down our throats than came from the editorial department of the Philadelphia Inquirer (still under the Knight Ridder auspices) than when a client called for cover. No need to go into examples here. Investigative reporting would be at the mercy of the advertisers involved at all levels. And no, adult consumers are not usually smarter to be able to differentiate. That is a main reason why advertisers do "advertorials" where gullibility knows no end; neither does scam span.

  13. Grant Crowell from, October 5, 2012 at 10:13 p.m.

    The sad truth is the vast majority of Americans would rather complain about stale beer theybget for free than buy good beer right next to it on the shelf. What I mean by that is our indignation is not matched by our pocketbook. We say how much we want independent, non-advertiser supported, investigative journalism... But we still go for sensationalism over substance. So where does that leave the "serious" publications? It leaves the so strapped for cash that they're actually encouraging their advertisers to fool their own audience between what is an ad and what is not. Or is it now just all ads on some level? A for-profit enterprise is still a business first, and that goes for so-called traditional news. If you don't support BBC-style media and C-Span and NPR, you're just a butcher. And guess what, bitched don't pay the bills.

  14. Grant Crowell from, October 5, 2012 at 10:14 p.m.

    Sorry everyone, I am terrible with my iPhone when it comes to misspellings.

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