I don’t want to start another argument about where native advertising can ever be holy. To some extent, and depending on the ad, they’re not much different from the advertorials that print publications still run, and will probably run forever. As will these arguments.
At their worst, on video or in print, they look like really bad knockoffs of legitimate news content. At their best, they look like really good knockoffs of legitimate content. I know some would object to either characterization, but that’s because native advertising can be so good or so bad.
Earlier this month, Advertising Age reported on it studied two dozen news and lifestyle sites, social media platforms and apps and that discovered not one of them referred their native advertising plainly and unambiguously. “Instead, they lean on a variety of terms, such as ‘sponsored,’ ‘promoted’ or ‘presented by,’ " AdAge reported.
That same story said an Interactive Advertising Bureau survey last year found that 41% of consumers believe Web sites clearly identify native advertising for what it is. That’s some pretty widespread obfuscation.
“One issue is how these visual cues will vary from publisher to publisher,” writes PR News. “Who’s honestly trying to separate the two, and who’s selling their readers out? At what point in the process distinguishing an ad from the editorial does the ad cease to be native?”
I was thinking of that a little while ago when I came upon one of those “presented by” identifiers. It’s a cool Website. I trust the Website. So I thought, why, all of a sudden, the little white lie? I’m not being theatrical here. When I see native advertising on a site I enjoy I feel duped.
What if a Web site just said the “A” word?
What if a Web site prefaced its native advertising with words to the effect, “This is a special short video ad from…”? Isn’t that actually preferable to the way it’s often done, with language so contorted that you know you’re being lied to? When I get notice in the mail that says, “You may have won $1,000 a week for the rest of your life,*” I immediately know I have no chance of winning, really. The itty bitty marking that says “Paid Post” on a New York Times native ad just says to me: “Yes, we think you’re that gullible.”
Saying “A Topical Video Advertisement” and saying it in type an average person could read means the publisher and the advertiser are treating you as a peer. They’re on your side.
The use of the word “transparency” to describe a way of running a business is relatively recent, but now consumers do or should expect it. So calling an ad ad is the absolute least an advertiser can do. The streaming business is still relatively new, too, and it has a chance to do things differently. That should include open and rampant transparency. That means calling an ad an ad. The best online publishers should take that seriously.