Those who sell native advertising try to avoid using the word ´advertorial´, claiming that it is a new format for a new age. And of course, advertisers, marketers and media owners unfailingly love a new format. Even if it looks very much like an old format, rebranded to sound like there is a deeper digital/psychological process behind it.

 

Mildly irritating though this rebranding is, it is only part of the reason we are concerned with the way this format is being talked up.

 

Native ads (aka advertorials/sponsored content/paid placements) have existed for a long time (since the 18th century apparently) and need to be used sparingly. Lose the trust of your audience and you lose your audience. It is important to recognise the difference between, say, Buzzfeed, where most readers couldn’t care less about the provenance of the articles provided the funny cats keep on coming, and The Times, that (without any fanfare whatsoever) debuted its first native Ad in 2014. The moment readers start to get confused over which content is an advert and which isn’t, the normal un-sponsored content loses its credibility. And for a quality like The Times that has built trust over centuries, credibility is all.

 

In the long run, native advertising risks losing the trust of those readers that are worth so much to the media owners (and our clients!).

 

On the flipside of all this skepticism, native advertising, done well (ie very high quality and without trying to fool the reader) can really work. America (and in this case The New York Times and its celebrated Orange is the New Black ad) is way ahead of us as media owners and advertisers alike appreciate that if native advertising is going to work, it has to work in collaboration with the audience, and not by trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

 

By Oliver Brown