Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Ethical Dilemma with Native Advertising

Hannah Kusper

Anyone who uses social media or the internet to receive news content knows that native advertising is taking over journalism. Native advertising is a disguised form of content that matches the design and function of a normal journalism piece. However, these disguised articles must be labeled as sponsored content by brands who pay for them to be on the website. Notable news sources including BuzzFeed, Forbes, The Atlantic and The New Yorker often have sponsored content on their websites along with regular news content.

Ethically, these native advertising pieces must be clearly labeled as an advertisement by the brand that is represented. If they are not labeled, readers can confuse news articles with branded content. Since sponsored content articles are designed to look more appealing and relevant to the reader, they have a similar style of editorial news articles based on facts.

Some news agencies including BuzzFeed take a separation between church and state approach to covering native advertising and news articles. This tactic works well since separate teams work on news articles and other teams focus specifically on branded content. This makes it easier to avoid unethical situations where sponsored content is not clearly labeled throughout the article.

There are both positive and negative aspects of native advertising on our social media and news platforms. These sponsored content posts have taken over social media as ads now blend in with the content rather than disrupting the viewer. According to recent findings, 53 percent of users say they would prefer to see a native advertisement rather than a traditional banner ad. Also, if the content is appealing and relevant to the user, the user is more likely to engage and potentially become a customer of the brand.

However, there are some downfalls to native advertising. Most importantly, since native ads are disguised to look like regular content, consumers may feel betrayed. This causes an ethical dilemma between the consumer and company, as the trust is broken between the two. Customers may feel lied to after figuring out an interesting article they read was sponsored by a specific brand.

An example of this is the ad from the Church of Scientology in The Atlantic, which was a rave review of the church’s leader. This advertisement was not ethically marked as an advertisement and came off as a real endorsement of the controversial church by The Atlantic. This example alone caused serious mistrust between the highly reputable magazine and its customer base.
If not done correctly, native advertising could destroy the trust between journalists and readers. Advertisers have a tough job of making content look visually appealing and following tough ethical standards. 

Sponsored content should always be clearly labeled, include real reader comments and be relevant to the reader. Native advertising does not substitute for earned media and brands must do more than sneak into user’s news feeds. Native advertising will only increase in the coming years so advertisers must remain ethical to build trust with their readers.  

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