If Native Ad Is Good, Why Disguise What It Is?

The natives are restless. As MediaPost editor Joe Mandese is reporting today from the Cannes Lions fest, for the second day in a row, a British knight publically slammed native advertising.

BBH Founder Sir John Hegarty complained said “ads that tricked people up, that kind of faked people that this wasn’t advertising” wasn’t a new concept, but it just was going by a new name for a bad practice. He called native dishonest.

The night before, the knight before Hegarty—that would be WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell—called native dishonest, too, just a slick big of re-packaging.  “You don’t confuse or con consumers with content that has been sponsored or paid for,” he said.



Though of course, that is the mostly unspoken idea behind it. Native advertising can be so pleasant, interesting, relevant, engaging and nonintrusive that a consumer can slip right into it.

Which,to me, makes it a pretty good advertisement. But even when all of that is true, I don’t think most consumers are fooled.

There are better concerns about native ads that copy the typefaces and styles of the host publications, but native video ads are pretty obvious for what they are.  In fact—I hope I can say this correctly—they are obvious in their attempts to not look obvious. Like the way a real hoodlum can usually sniff out the undercover cop imposter.

I’d grant you, being around the media makes it easier to spot bogus-ness. A British website,, recently completed a five-part series about native advertising. Its first installment began like this:

From its very name to its sober headlines and public affairs-minded stories, The Christian Science Monitor’s Web site seems hand built to communicate credibility.

So what, a visitor might wonder, is up with those “other” stories on the site, such as the one with a picture of a shirtless Sylvester Stallone that asks: “Who knew these male mega stars were so small?”

Those “stories” are paid for, examples of an increasingly popular genre of marketing called native advertising. The Monitor at least included an easy-to-miss hyperlink near the Stallone pic that read “About these ads.

Most publishers don’t bother disclosing the links as ads at all, or employ a variety of euphemisms…

Well, what do you think when you see a similar advertising feature like that on sites you visit? I think, “Well, this seems like a departure for my normally intelligent Web site to be dealing in drek like this.” Then I think, “It’s probably an ad.” And then I think, “How stupid does this Website think I am?”

Those features are loathsome. And obvious.  

Native advertising should announce itself, clearly and consistently and without weasel words. “A video you might be want to see,” or words to that effect, is not a clear identification. Every word differentiation from “Paid video” or “Sponsored video” is somebody’s attempt to fool the public.

Amanda Turnbull, group publishing director of Harper's Bazaar and Esquire UK, told, a site for publishers, "If you define native advertising as sponsored content that's relevant to the consumer experience, not interruptive and looks and feels similar to its editorial environment, then we've been doing this for some time already in print, and our digital platforms just give us more scope, scale and frequency to continue. What's highlighting the trend now is that a younger, tech-savvy group of consumers actively want to engage with brands and to learn more about them, and digital platforms certainly facilitate this."

One of the truisms of video native advertising is that is can be helpful, interesting--and obviously advertising. For one, people don’t care, as long as it’s not pre-roll.  Online video watchers wander—they might be “on” YouTube, but that’s just the gateway to an immense landscape of video. Maximum truthiness shouldn’t hurt if all the other parts of your native ad are in place.

1 comment about "If Native Ad Is Good, Why Disguise What It Is? ".
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  1. Todd Koerner from e-merge Media, June 20, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    Isn't native advertising just another form of "Rick-rolling"?

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