Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ethics in Native Advertising

Isabella Andersen

Can you tell the difference between an ad and an article? If not, don't worry; you're not the only one. Sponsored content, also called native advertising, is the promotion of products and services disguised as an article, and it is taking over many news websites and blogs. In fact, it's hard to find a news website that doesn't run sponsored content. It seems everyone, from Buzzfeed to CNN, uses articles to advertise for sponsors. These articles have been used to promote television shows, beauty products, contact lenses, and even Scotch tape. This practice isn't new, and it definitely isn't going anywhere; but what about the ethics of it all? 

As an aspiring writer, I have been searching for internships for a few months. (Don't worry; this isn't sponsored content to sell my brand.) Specifically, I am searching for a blog writing or copywriting internship. The problem, though, is that each time I attend an interview for either of these, the job turns out to be exactly the same. My potential employers want someone to write ad articles, promoting their products/services (usually some sort of subscription website), and disguise them as helpful articlesfrom someone who has tried the service, about ways to help college students survive until they graduate. 

While I don't have a problem with writing ads, I do have an issue with pretending I'm trying to help someone, when all I really want is to sell something. I also have a problem with pretending an ad is actually a news article. It's deceptive; it makes me feel dirty; and it ends with my words being used to manipulate impressionable minds. 

What can we do about it? It is up to us as readers to ensure that we do our part. We must always be aware of what we are reading. Though it is hard to tell, at first, if what you're reading is an ad or an article, there are ways to recognize native advertising. We must question everything and do our own research. Search the internet to try to find instances of the website you are reading posting native advertising articles. Before you allow an article to sell you something, look for fine print at the beginning and end of the article to see if it states anywhere that you are reading sponsored content.  

As writers, we must remember that ethics in writing and advertising is equally as important as selling our sponsors' products or services. Always state that an article is an ad, if it is one, and name the sponsor. We should treat our readers like critical thinkers. Write high-quality copy, but allow them to decide for themselves if the product is right for them. Yes, the world is changing; we should change with it, but always for the better.  In short, if you feel as if you are being dishonest, you probably are. 


  1. I was very unfamiliar with the term native advertising before I reviewed our weeks readings. I find it very misleading but at the same time companies need to sell their products. If they cannot sell product they won't be able to flourish as a business. So long as they label their ads accordingly I do not see the problem. However, I am sure there have been ads that I have come across that I did not realize were ads because their labeling with either very minimal or even nonexistent. I am sure this is going to continue being an issue for all types of mediums though for pretty much the remainder of our time here. Thank for sharing and good luck on the search!

  2. Robert Vollman.
    I understand where you're coming from. On one hand you want to let people trust the product, but you also don't want to deceive them with any kind of false advertising. It can be a very hard act to balance out. Some sites and companies do it perfectly, others just can't seem to get a true mastering of it. Hopefully one day ads will be made with the proper placement and in ways that won't deceive the buyer into thinking that it's true.

  3. I agree. News and information journalists should avoid native advertising because it's pretty much selling out. Compromising your independence and your integrity makes you subject to the influences of another.

    Public relations majors should rejoice for these opportunities, especially because native advertising is a more in-depth, accountable way to promote for the greater good of the public. Brands with good intentions should promote their works because they do culminate in the better good for society, and PR does a great job with that.

    But journalists who are news and info should steer clear because of the conflict of interest. Unless you can acknowledge with transparency every negative quality about the brand you're advertising, there's no need to get your hands dirty.

  4. The above comment was posted by Chris Yangas