The boom of sponsored content is changing the way the journalism industry works. Native Advertising has become one of the most utilized tools for editorial publications and PR firms alike. But what exactly is sponsored content? Well, the days of banners and pop-ups dominating the Internet are over and they are being replaced with articles and other content put together for the purpose of conveying a brands message to an audience. This form of advertising draws a lot of negative publicity, but if utilized properly, this method of advertising can be very effective and still ethical.
How It Should Work
When written and used correctly, native advertising is valuable to both the reader and the advertiser. In order to do so, there are certain guidelines that need to be followed. I believe one of the most important rules that needs to be followed when publishing branded content is disclosure. As talked about in the PRSA article - "When you promote branded content, you need to clearly label it as such. Don't try to sell marketing content as editorial." Being open and honest with your readers about what content has been written for the purpose of advertising is very important to maintaining a strong relationship.
Back in 2011, the ASME released a few of their own new rules when it comes to native advertising. These rules are meant to provide another level of transparency for consumers of online content. Perhaps one of the most controversial changes is that branded content must be visually different than editorial content. The font size and style cannot match actual news articles or it is considered deceptive. I believe this, along with disclosure are good for the industry in maintaining transparency with our readers.
Is Branded Content a Threat to Journalism?
Joe McCambley, founder of the Wonderfactory and notorious for the creation of the banner ad, was quoted as saying that allowing PR firms and advertisers complete access to content management is "a very slippery slope and could kill journalism if publishers aren't careful." I personally believe that there is every opportunity available for news and PR-formed content to coexist. It's safe to say bare-bone news journalism will always be around, and there is no real threat to it's integrity as long as transparency is kept.
It's important, also, that news stick to news and advertisers stick to advertising. As the PRSA article put it - "Respect the non-porous organizational divide - simply put, people on the news staff don't write, edit or place branded content." This separation should be enough to keep the bridge up between branded and non-branded content.
The branded content industry is growing rapidly, and many of the public, as well as journalists are wary of this change; and they have a right to be. No one likes to feel like they're being deceived into reading something made for a brand. This is why transparency is the most important part of native advertising. As McCambley said, "How do I know who made the content I'm looking at and what the value of the information is?" We've been given the guidelines to make sure that these questions are answered, and it's safe to say they will guide the industry even further as it continues to grow.