One of the most vexing questions to people trying to make sense of native advertising which is also referred to as branded content, brand journalism and sponsored content, is that the terms are used interchangeably. Who wouldn’t be confused?
The terms mean different things to different publishers, brand marketers and other stakeholders. Joe Lazauskas, editor in chief of Contently, a site for best practices on content marketing and native advertising, breaks it down this way:
Branded content: It’s a synonym for content marketing.
Brand journalism: Lazauskas says this term is used incorrectly by many brands that start a blog and want to play journalist. “The term should be restricted to brands that sponsor editorially independent journalism—think T Mobile’s Electronic Beats.” He maintains that “brand journalism” doesn’t really exist.
Stephanie Losee, head of content at Visa, would beg to differ. Prior to Visa, Losee created a brand journalism team at Politico. At the time, she referred to content marketing as “brand journalism” and said she aims to “restore the flow of money between brands and publishers to find a sustainable model for journalism. This is the right place to test my theories.”
Native advertising: Lazauskas argues that it’s a catchall term for ads that mirror the environment in which they appear. For example, one might say that Google search ads and in-feed Facebook ads are the most lucrative type of native advertising today.
Sponsored content: The media industry often uses the phrases “native advertising” in the same conversation with “sponsored content." Lazauskas argues that these terms aren’t synonymous. Sponsored content is just one type of native advertising—the brand-sponsored articles and videos that appear on the sites and social platforms of publishers and influencers.
For example, he points out that a BuzzFeed listicle of 12 tweets about being hungry, sponsored by Wendy’s, is both sponsored content and a native ad. A search ad for caninestyles.com that shows up when you Google “victorian dog sweater” is a native ad, but it’s not sponsored content, he argues.
Sponsored content lies at the intersection of native advertising and branded content, while brand journalism exists in a no-man’s land, according to Lazauskas.
The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) takes a slightly different approach, declaring that native advertising is not content marketing. Of course Joe Pulizzi, the Institute’s founder, has a vested interest in this issue.
The CMI defines content marketing thusly: “Content marketing is a strategic marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action by changing or enhancing consumer behavior.”
Another distinguishing factor – with content marketing, the brand owns the media. Pulizzi describes native advertising like this:
It’s a directly paid opportunity: Native advertising is “pay to play.” Brands pay for the placement of content on platforms outside of their own media.
It’s typically information-based: The content is useful, interesting, and highly targeted to a specific audience. In all likelihood, it’s not a traditional advertisement directly promoting the company’s product or service.
Then this is where it goes slightly off the rails, and native advertising looks a bit like content marketing. Pulizzi says the information is usually highly targeted and positioned as valuable. “But again, in native advertising, you are renting someone else’s content distribution platform (just like advertising), except that you aren’t pimping a product or service.”
It’s delivered in-stream. The user experience is not disrupted with native advertising, because it is delivered in a way that doesn’t impede the user’s normal behavior in that particular channel.
Pulizzi maintains that overall, native advertising doesn’t disrupt the user experience and offers helpful information in a format similar to the rest of the content on the site, so users engage with it more than they would otherwise -- definitely more engaging than a banner ad. Native advertising, in its simplest form, is one way of distributing content.