This will be the year of native advertising, in all forms of the Internet, but probably very successfully in the online video portion of the Web.
It’s got people fretting and it should, because it’s sometimes hard to distinguish untouched content from content that has been put there by a marketer. Much of the native content is pretty good stuff, in fact, and it seems there’s not any objection to it, as long as the marketer ‘fesses up, or makes it look very obvious that it’s not normal editorial content.
Which is the problem. The New York Times says it has just now entered the native advertising arena, but it is going to be very careful to make sure its native advertising doesn’t seem like it’s been anywhere near the editorial department. (One of the brilliant confusions about native advertising, it seems to me, is that name. I think the real content, the real video, should be called native -- it lives there. The stuff we are calling “native advertising” should be called “imported content advertising” or something better, that clearly says: “This copy, or video, walked in the door with a checkbook.”)
Everybody seems to have some trouble with this idea because native advertising seems like it can be powerfully effective financially, but otherwise weak as a strategy. Awkwardly, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor for NYT, on Jan. 11 wrote, “Just last week, The Times began a careful foray into native advertising -- paid content that looks something like news -- and showed off the redesign of its Website.”
For that news organization, which has historically had a pretty exact idea of what the news is -- it’s that material that “is fit to print” -- the new standard (“content that looks something like news”) is a pretty dramatic step down.
The NYT is, at least, seeming awkward, a little sheepish, and wary about it. The IAB has been tackling this subject, with a committee report and a playbook, but the fact is, defining native advertising is, as you’ve heard a milllion times, tricky. As Mark Walsh wrote earlier, in Online Media Daily: “Regarding native advertising specifically, as a subset of content marketing, the IAB has stated: ‘Regardless of context, a reasonable consumer should be able to distinguish between what is a paid native advertising unit vs. what is publisher editorial content.’ “
OK. Got it. At some clubs, strippers wear pasties so they can avoid prosecution under local public indecency laws. That’s a comparison that works. Those pasties are so obvious.
Truly, some of the fears over native advertising are groundless, in part, because a reasonably intelligent consumer can spot them from far away. The problem is determining how many reasonably intelligent consumers there are. Long before there was criticism or controversy over native advertising, in which an advertiser created print or video that had a style that looked like the host Web site’s, there have been those add-ons to sites that look like may have been aggregated for our convenience.
Like, today at Forbes.com, I clicked to read “GE Profit Rises 20% Boosted by Oil and Gas” and at the bottom of that real story was another feature, “From Around the Web,” with photos and headlines hyping other relevant-sounding stories. How nice, I could say. Some other business-related copy.
I clicked on “Tricks Car Insurance Agents Don’t Want You to Know” and was taken to a Web site called Howlifeworks.com and sold on the idea of shopping around for rates. “One of the best of these free new services is InsureMyCar4Less.com,” the story explains. On the bottom of this story, in much smaller type, is a line that reads, “This article sponsored by InsureMyCar4Less.com.”
On the Forbes page itself is a microscopic-sized icon with a question mark in it. That tells me these news-seeming stories are paid for by Content.ad.
In case you think these ads are not deliberately fuzzy, visit Content.ad’s home page where it does its business. It explains: “Content.ad distributes high-paying premium content that doesn't look or feel like advertising and delivers engaged visitors to Web sites.”
As you know, these things are all over the Internet, ushering in new bunch of deceived users every day. They’re building up the base, I guess. So good luck with the native advertising thing.