Native Advertising

The easiest way to understand native advertising might be to start by looking at what it’s not – its cousin, the advertorial.

Native advertising is similar to an advertorial in that it’s editorial that’s paid for by an advertiser; however, native ads are articles that look just the same as the non-paid “real” editorial (same fonts, number of columns, etc.). Therefore, instead of the page looking “alien” to the rest of the publication, it is “native” because it’s considered part of the publication’s “real” editorial (and looks just like the non-paid articles).

Here’s an example of native advertising created by the Sacramento Bee for Sutter Health:

SacBeeNativeAd(Click for larger view)

Tribune Media Services has different practices for what they call their “brand content.” The company posts traditional editorial in one area on its website and paid brand content on another, using non-Trib writers to create the brand content. Here’s an example of an article I did for TMS. Editorial and brand content appear in different typeface on the site, I was told by a content manager at TMS. The Trib advises its brand content contract writers that one of the big differences between their brand content and a traditional ad is that Tribune Media Service brand content does not contain a call to action. While this (obviously) seems to be sponsored content, TMS calls it “brand content,” probably as an internal classification that sounds less offensive to traditional journalists than “sponsored content.”

According to global market research firm Edelman Berland:

•Most consumers will accept information that’s paid for by a business if the publisher and brand are credible/well-known/trusted. You’ll get a 33% boost in the credibility of your message with readers if your sponsored content or native advertising runs on a trusted website.

•Consumer prefer advertising messages that tell a story, rather than use old-school sales techniques.

•This type of content succeeds best if it’s relevant, authoritative and delivered by a trusted brand and publisher.

A key difference between native ads and advertorials is that the content of native advertising is often created by the publisher (a no-no with advertorials). In some cases, the content is considered credible editorial, not an ad. The content of native advertising can be created by the advertiser, the publisher’s staff, the two parties working together, or a third-party contractor (freelance writer or content marketing company) who works for either the publisher or advertiser.

The content is then included as regular editorial in the publication, using the same layout, fonts, columns and other design elements as any other page. As with advertorials, native advertising usually carries a disclosure statement. Native advertising is not limited to small publishers and websites, with publishing giants like The New York Times, Tribune Media Services, E.W. Scripps and The Sacramento Bee getting involved with native advertising as a way to stay afloat as more and more traditional print advertisers flee to new media.

The Federal Trade Commission has recognized that the practice of publishing native advertising can lead to unidentified advertising posing as editorial, misleading the public, and the FTC is working to set rules regarding native advertising. As more and more publications and websites attempt to be creative in gaming the system when it comes to native advertising, the FTC is not setting rules in stone and the Commission’s rules will evolve as this new form of journalism continues.

In short, the FTC is warning advertisers and publishers (print or online) that the public better know when they are reading content that is paid for by anyone for any reason to any extent.

There is an argument being made even by some journalism purists that legitimate public good can come from native advertising. Publications and reporters get access to businesses and professional experts who provide facts, figures and other useful information to create helpful articles for the public.

Doubters wonder how often that’s the intent of a native ad. Why doesn’t the publication just interview the business and run the story without a cash quid pro quo if the information is so important? Or why doesn’t the business just buy an ad and run the information?

Publications and websites have limited resources and can’t publish every good, important story out there. If a business or industry trade association gets frustrated waiting for the media to cover a story, it can now get the media to publish the story by “helping” publishers, creating a win/win/win for everyone.