time square with many advertisments

Native Advertising: A New Grey Space

I am not sure how many readers of EID have exposure to the content marketing area. It is an area I both consult and teach in, with the niche of understanding human cognition and human behavior rather than the core marketing, so my approach gives companies and students a different perspective than they get from other sources.

Whether you have worked or studied in this area of not, I am sure you are familiar with one channel that is becoming increasingly common in content marketing – native advertising. Traditionally, native advertising was limited to advertorials, infomercials, product placement in movies.

But now the line is getting quite grey. It started with sponsored search where the paid links were hardly discernible from the organic links. Lawsuits seem to be clearing this channel up at least a little.

But with the business model of mass media crumbling and marketers giving up on banner ads, a lot of new and more ethically questionable approaches are being piloted. One of the more public examples was last year when the Church of Scientology wrote an article and paid for it to be published on the Atlantic magazine’s website. It was an advertorial, but you couldn’t really tell by looking at the website. Can you imagine the uproar if a front page article in the New York Times was paid for? Or CNN lead story? Just wait, it might be right around the corner.

Now, the debate is being turned around 180 degrees. This fantastic piece at the Content Marketing Institute (one of my favorite sources for quick practical insight on content marketing) explains it better than I could:

  • Self-deception No. 1: Publishers can’t mislead the public by selling their credibility because they have very little credibility to sell.
  • Self-deception No. 2: The FTC is misunderstanding, perhaps intentionally, what advertising is.
  • Self-deception No. 3: The FTC is pretending that there is such a thing as non-biased news and that it can be cleanly, dependably distinguished from advertising.

The insight is that the game is over. The whole world has gone grey. Everyone is for sale. So reputation and objectivity is dependent on the company, not the industry. Each politician, news channel, technology company, social network, etc etc etc creates its own reputation, which may include credibility or it may not. We don’t make assumptions based on the sector. News media are not more credible or objective than social networks. And politicians may or may not be. The NSA . . . I’ll leave that for another post.

Image credit: “Times Square, New York City” by Francisco Diez used under CC BY 2.0

2 thoughts on “Native Advertising: A New Grey Space”

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