Native advertising is something that is omnipresent on the Web. The weird thing is…I am pretty sure I can confidently say that you’ve encountered it but I can’t say for sure if you are aware of that or not. I mean everything, including the most retarded Buzzfeed listicles can turn out to be sponsored content. Sure, good content can make you see a company in a more positive light, or heck, even make you curious enough to find out more about them. But on the other hand, reading something that makes you feel like you are stuck in a boring advertising vortex isn’t going to help anybody.
A quick primer on native advertising
Native advertising is advertising that takes on the form and function of the platform it appears on. This stuff isn’t new. Advertorials have been around since the early 1900’s. Then came sponsored radio shows and infomercials. Infomercials were one of the things that shocked me as a young girl when I moved to the U.S. Holy crap were those in your face in the late 90’s! Well, they still are I supposed but I’ve done my best to avoid them since then.
Early in our decade (the 2010’s), native advertising came back with a vengeance in a form we are more familiar with on the Web. Sites like Buzzfeed were pioneers in this revamp of sponsored content.
Smart and or deceitful advertising
Today, it shows up in the shape of listicles, sponsored products in the middle of a slideshow on a beauty website, as an Instagram post or as a YouTube video. Some people call it smart advertising and do not feel any hate towards that type of content. Others see it as deceitful and despise sponsored content.
It’s not all evil. When done right native advertising can actually bring real tangible value to its target audience. But it has to make sense for the brand, the publisher, AND the reader. It lets a company spread awareness about a product so that’s pretty awesome. How is it awesome? Well, if I hear about an affordable dream hotel in Bali when I’m planning my Southeast Asia trek, you can be sure I’m going to check it out. Of course, this has to be on a lifestyle blog I happen to read and not some technical SEO website otherwise, wrong context, wrong space, wrong everything.
Native advertising is also an opportunity for journalists and bloggers to cover certain topics and issues that aren’t very “popular” or don’t drive enough traffic to sustain these writers. A majority of users say they would rather read promotional content than have to deal with regular banner ads. Marketers are listening and keep pouring more money into this ad format.
Pretty obvious counterpoint to the good side of native advertising: the content makes many readers feel cheated or lied to. No one wants promotional stuff disguised as informational content. Dishonesty isn’t going to score any brand some good karma points. Advertising are counting on our inability to distinguish ad content from other type of content like actual news.
Bottom line: an ad is still an ad. I don’t care how trustworthy the format seems. When only 20% of the people reading them can point out native ads, it’s bad news all around. Promoted content shouldn’t be thought of or used as camouflage for ads by marketers. Otherwise, there’s an ethical dilemma that needs to be addressed.
I mean, it’s insane to half of a niche community lose its collective mind over a product only to realize that it’s simply because of a big PR blitz going on. The product seems great because everyone is talking about when in reality, it probably doesn’t suit your needs (ahem Beats headphones or Kylie lip kits).
I am a marketer. I don’t think it means that I am ethically challenged or that I’ll be organizing sponsored content for clubbing baby seals…BUT it also means that I genuinely take the time to consider such marketing avenues. Do I think sponsored content is inherently evil? No. Do I think most marketers are doing it wrong and trying to shove it down our collective throats? Yes. It’s all about the humans dealing you want to target with that message, not the metrics they are supposed to produce. Sadly, marketers are often pressured by companies to provide leads, conversions and clients. Our bosses don’t want to hear about doing a good job, they want to shove their business objectives down our throats as fast as they can. I don’t shit rainbows and I refuse to make you believe I do by hiring 10 unicorn influencers to tell you I do. With that in mind, if I can’t find a way to provide value while giving a product some visibility, then maybe I will look into sponsored content.
Let’s just go back a bit though and remember that sponsor comes from the latin spondere which means to “promise solemnly”. If you don’t believe in the product and/or aren’t 100% convinced this is the right channel to communicate, BE MORE CREATIVE because your ad has no business being on that blog.