Tuesday, November 1, 2016
When The Atlantic published and then removed a piece advertising the Church of Scientology, the skepticism towards native advertising become more apparent than ever. Many argue native advertising’s role in journalism and magazine editorials as either productive for both publisher and ad agency, or destructive for credibility and readership trust. It can go both ways. The challenge, Willets explains, is not just about ethics, but also how you can present branded content to your readers. If it’s done well, then it serves a purpose. It’s all about the content and presentation. As Mike Orren from Speakeasy explains, there’s a fine line between advertorial and content marketing. Advertorial would be the instance with The Atlantic; an advertising message thinly disguised as an editorial piece. It’s of little value and readers can sniff right through the advertising. Content marketing is “advertorial without all the ‘me, me me.’”
Meaning, advertising that is disguised as editorial should be in most part, an editorial. It should speak to the reader the magazine’s interests, and should barely be seen as an ad, but as a way to engage the audience instead of sneakily sponsoring something. The audience needs to know what they’re reading, therefore as publishers and writers we must fully disclose marketing content from editorial. We must allow our readers to comment, despite whether someone paid for the content or not. Content must stay current and up to date, and lastly, we must respect the organizational divide. News staff must not write, edit, or place branded content in order to keep their independence.
ASME created tighter guidelines for native advertising, saying to explain sponsored content with a prominent statement that explains the article’s origin. Another guideline, although not followed well enough, was to make native ads visually separated from editorial content. That means different fonts and graphics so the audience knows it’s sponsored. The problem with that is that most publishers want their native ads to look like the editorials.
Readership is the main focus of advertising, as well as editorial. For editorial, we want our readers to trust what we say. We need credibility and independence, which is why it is important for journalists to stay transparent. For sponsored content, our readers need to trust what we say and know that although it is sponsored content, it isn’t just an ad. They need to know that our editors and news reporters aren’t writing sponsored content. It’s about trust. For a magazine like Forbes, advertising works well until you can’t tell what is advertising and what is real content. Their readership grows, but the power of their brand risks fading. BrandVoice allows advertisers to produce editorial content resembling real editorial work for Forbes, with 1,200 contributors in addition to staff posts. This creates a multitude of opportunity for marketers, but the messages do get mixed.
It’s hard to know what you read is sponsored content or not, that is why as journalists we have to be transparent to our readers so that there can be a balance between advertising and editorial content that is ethical.