The subject of native advertising is a pretty hot topic across the digital world and it seems to be dividing crowds as to the benefits and pitfalls of this advertising practice.
Native takes the form of advertising within the look and demeanour of the site it inhabits, a seamless mixture of sponsor-driven content. Presented as a piece of editorial, navigating this bannerless advertising push can be baffling at best, and leave readers feeling betrayed by the integrity of their chosen publication at worst. Despite the feeling that native happily exists in the realms of Buzzfeed, where it has been unbelievably successful, it seems when it begins to stray across to sites where a level of editorial integrity is of paramount importance, the nature of such embedded advertising starts to come under tough scrutiny.
With native advertising making its way onto the pages of sites such as Forbes, The Atlantic and The New York Times, it begs the question of when does advertising become deceptive? Is it when a site employs a full, bright, brash banner flashing above the fold? Is it deceptive when there is a link sitting at the side of an article leading you somewhere else entirely from the site you have just been glancing your eyes over?
The issue of deception
The difference between sponsored content and native is somewhat of a grey area, but while the latter aims to be shared compulsively through its readership, the former is often written or produced by a brand themselves with the aim to inform readers rather than prompt active online action. Trying to ascertain the exact differences between these marketing and advertising strategies seems a futile task as they are borne of the same sentiment: to cleverly and subtly entice the reader to affiliate themselves with your brand and or product.
However, the sticking point is to whether this form of ‘brand journalism’ is diminishing the quality of editorial content with sneaky agendas linked to advertising of some kind. When we hit the sites of our most trusted and esteemed writers, to feel like we are being sold a brand or a product from them is strangely unnerving. You question their journalistic integrity, you question the affability of their previously trustworthy words. You question what the hell it is you think you are reading!
With this stuck in your mind, it is interesting that the likes of the social media giants Facebook and Twitter embed this information all over your respective news feeds. Take a glance at the number of sponsored ads you see today. It is surely easier to drop a cheeky native into a stream of information you scroll through daily than to develop a content marketing strategy to place delicately amongst esteemed editorial. Respectively in a consumer world that is interested in the right here and the right now, the market is increasingly competitive when it comes to getting people to click on something outside of their own personal internet perusal.
Does the initiative of companies to try to seamlessly interweave and drive advertising into what we see as recognisable and familiar editorial content make perfect business sense? Sure, in a way. But a link that masquerades as a buzzy headline to some revelatory piece of content that, in reality, turns out to be a wordy and ambiguous marketing message seems less than desirable in its theory. Still, it would seem that big corporations are keen to buy into its benefits. Commissioning, developing and paying companies to advertise in the realm of content marketing and sponsored content.
With some participants such as the New York Times clearly indicating on their sites when a reader is embarking on an essay outsourced as a “Paid Post”, naturally there are still those like news.com.au who prefer to keep readers guessing as to the source of their content. As a principle foundation of journalism, many would argue that the transparency of who wrote the story is a must; so the eternal question as to whether the credibility of native advertising existing in the realm of journalism is viable will continue to be pondered as this market development progresses.
The internet offers consumers infinite choices with regards to content they wish to see and pursue, and, as is often with the online world, it is also consumer-driven. It is driven by the desire of those wanting to reach out to you, to catch your eye, even for a moment. And as you scroll through the 25 cats who are depressed because it is Monday, it is worth bearing in mind that there is most likely to be an obscure sponsored link that will lure you in under these false pretences. Because of this limitless media platform, it would appear that going native is set as the pretext for many more subtle advertising and marketing campaigns that reach the inner hub of our online lives.