Move out of the way banner ads- content marketing is here, and it looks like it's here to stay. That is if news organizations and advertisers can figure out how to navigate the ethics of content marketing.
What is Content Marketing?
Some call it content marketing, others say sponsored content or native advertising. Whatever you refer to it as, it means the same thing. It's the marketing and business process of creating and distributing relevant, valuable content to engage with a targeted audience. The goal is to get a customer to purchase something.
However it's not a traditional ad that you see on tv, in a magazine or hear on the radio. Instead, content marketing is disguised as editorial content. When it's done well, content marketing works.
But, if advertisers want to play with the news organizations, they need to have the same standards as news organizations when creating content. Sponsored content must serve the reader and not the company's interests.
A leader in content marketing is BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed encourages companies to post content in the fun, engaging way that BuzzFeed does in its regular posts. Companies are able to promote their interests but in a way that readers won't find overwhelming or pushy.
If companies do it in a wrong way, readers notice too. The Atlantic published a content marketing post about the Church of Scientology. People said it wasn't labeled properly. That leads to the ethical dilemma and some of the struggles content marketing faces.
Ethical Dilemmas of Content Marketing
There are a number of challenges advertisers and news organizations face when creating content marketing. There have been so many issues that the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) released new guidelines addressing the issue. PR company Edelman issued a new set of guidelines as well.
Both guidelines address many things, but one thing remains clear is the need for transparency.
Edelman's list states that there needs to be a disclosure for content marketing. There should be a clear label that lists the article as native advertising. ASME's updated guidelines say to use the term "sponsored content." It also suggests having a link to explain the article's origins. ASME also recommends visually differing sponsored content from editorial content. Make the sponsored content have a different font, color or background.
Another issue is keep the editorial staff and the content marketing staff separate. Don't make the news staff write the native advertising. Leave that to the advertising team. However, make sure there are some news people reviewing the article to make sure it's not deceiving to readers. News staff should play a role in determining whether the content is too editorial or not and whether it is upheld to the purpose of serving the reader not the interests of the company.
Additionally, readers need to be able to react to the post. Don't take away commenting abilities. Another big problem with The Atlantic piece is it blocked and deleted negative comments and promoted positive ones. The news organizations' duty is to the public not to the advertiser.
The most important rule to remember is sponsored content does not mean to give up on actual news content. Keep investigating and working with members of the community to develop meaningful, accurate stories that will further society.