Native advertising and ‘independent’ news

Sceptics of native advertising will fondly remember Alan Partridge brazenly plugging the soft drink Sprunt on Knowing Me, Knowing You.



They’ll also enjoy this 12-minute slot on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show on HBO.

Oliver’s bête noir is how native advertising is blurring the line between church and state – once-independent news outlets are being paid to place sponsored content on their websites.

Why would news rooms do this? The answer is twofold: online, banner adverts don’t generate money and neither does paid-for news. Banner ads have a click-through rates of just 0.17%.

So to make money news rooms like those at the New York Times and Time Inc. are having to revert to native advertising. This wouldn’t be a problem if readers can easily tell what is independently sourced news from paid-for content; Oliver points to one study that suggests only a half of people can tell native from pure editorial.

To illustrate the potential danger here, the New York Times recently published an article, sponsored by Chevron, called ‘How Our Energy Needs are Changing’. Nowhere in the piece, Oliver says, does it tell readers how companies like Chevron have contributed to the depletion of energy supplies in the first place.

Meredith Levien, Executive VP of Advertising (The New York Times and Co) pops up in the video, saying:

‘Good native advertising is just not meant to be trickery. It’s meant to be publishers sharing its storytelling tools with marketers’

Oliver’s take? ‘That’s not bullshit, it’s repurposed bovine waste.’

Companies wishing to go down the route of native advertising would do well to exercise caution. Oliver’s piece is a clear sign that the worm is turning on those companies that seek to align themselves too closely with news rooms, and of course those news rooms themselves.

Take this analysis of Forbes by Jeff Jarvis. Since 2010 Forbes has been moving toward native advertising and now attracts paying customers to appear on its BrandVoice website. The result, according to Jarvis, is a website that has back-fired:

The problem in the end for Forbes, I believe, is that the brand became even more devalued. I illustrate this very simply: Now, when I see a link to Forbes on Twitter, I don’t know whether it is going to take me to… the good work of a Forbes journalists… or… the paid and wordy shilling of a Forbes advertiser.

And content-marketing?

How is content-marketing different from native understanding? The answer lies in that separation of church and state. Where native advertising content sits alongside  ‘independent’ news – camouflaged, as Oliver would say – content-marketing  stands alone.

Follow any content-marketing feed on Twitter and sooner or later you’ll see advice on how to appear up the ranking in Google’s search results. Why this is so important in content-marketing land is because the aim is to attract interested customers to a company’s website; they might get fewer clicks than those companies paying for native advertising, but chances are, they’re more likely to engage with an eager customer. The trick is in finding the right hook to real them in.

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