While reading an interview in Forbes with former NY Times Editor, Bill Keller, there was a feeling of deja vu – or at least just the feeling we’ve seen this all before. The interview was wrapped in the blanket of technology and how that’s affected traditional media stalwarts like the NY Times. One of the lead-off questions related to Native Advertising – the creation and placement of editorial-like content by advertisers on news or editorially driven sites. The thing that’s clear is that Native Advertising is just a catchy new name for something that’s been around forever – it’s just a bit blurrier.
For decades – if not centuries or millennia – content has been pitched for sponsorship. What more recently was considered advertorial – where a company could write content and have it show up in a publication with clear demarkation as advertising – has become easier to pull off and produce within digital media.
This form of advertising through “legitimate” means goes back to patrons of religion, gifts for kings and even the holy of holies, Disney – you didn’t think that the Carnation Cafe is on Main Street just because it fit the them, did you? The problem is that many of the leading digital news outlets and even some traditionals are allowing pure advertising to be pay-for-play while misleading many readers about its origins.
Again, we’ve known this type of thing has gone on forever, but maybe we’ve gotten too lazy about it in the search for bigger dollars. Maybe we’re OK with changing our ways from selling the advertising surrounding good content to just selling the content – good or bad.
Where there was a clearer delineation between advertising and publicity – with the only correlation was that the more content people read, the more it attracted advertisers. Now, advertisers are trying to be both sides of the coin and it causes problems that time will tell whether it makes a difference or not.
One of those problems is that it is up to the reader to figure out whether they are reading unbiased news or corporate spin. It might have been easier before, but it is no longer. Some trade blogs and sites are almost completely populated with thinly veiled advertisements.
The other problem – and one that certainly hits far fewer people – is the way these practices have shifted the very form of publicity. What may have been the challenge of pitching a compelling story that a reporter would cover, shifted first to being included as a value-add to a media spend – and finally to just a matter of having a piece written and receiving paid-placement on a publisher site with little to no editorial involvement. It becomes a problematic when companies feel that they can just post releases on the wire and reporters are waiting at the ready to write about them.
As money becomes harder to come by and the ability to keep commerce and sound reporting separate, opportunity arises for advertisers to benefit. But, regardless of the name you might want to affix, is Native Advertising the way to go? If history is any proof, it’s the only way it’s ever really been – just a little more shrouded in technology.