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Blurred Lines: Native Ads or Editorial Content?

Posted: March 24, 2015, 11:24 p.m.
by: Katie Lansford.

It goes by many names: sponsored content, native advertising, promoted content. Whatever it’s called, it is boosting revenue for media companies everywhere. Entities like Buzzfeed, The New York Times, Mashable and Facebook have used content marketing to their utmost advantage. Their digital advertising revenue is skyrocketing, and brands are reaching more consumers than ever.

In December 2013, in a workshop on native advertising, the FTC stated, “A recent survey of online publishers revealed that 73 percent offer native advertising opportunities on their sites and that an additional 17 percent are considering offering them this year.”

Sharethrough, “a global leader in advertising technology,” has created several successful native advertising resources for companies and brands. One of the most interesting is the Native Advertising Leaderboard, which ranks native ads according to their content score and total shares. The website also allows visitors to filter the list by content type or by industry. Intel, Lifetime and Weight Watchers hold the current top three spots on the leaderboard.

According to Tom Channick, head of communications for Sharethrough, “Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”

8682794490_774fd0068c_oOut with the old, in with the new
This is where the lines between editorial and advertising blur. Unlike traditional advertising, native advertising is placed within the flow of the website’s content to blend in and entice readers to interact with or view content. In-feed ads, content recommendation widgets and Twitter promoted tweets are all examples of native advertising.

Public relations has, and will have, an increasingly important place at the table of modern marketing. It works together with content marketing to foster two-way communication between consumers and brands. This is key in ensuring success for native advertising.

Kapost, a leading content marketing software provider, just hired its first full-time public relations professional. The company understands the role public relations can play in modern marketing.

Jean Spencer, content marketing manager at Kapost, and founder of J. Digital, a digital marketing strategy firm, views public relations as “a natural complement to many modern marketing efforts, including shaping how and where content marketing is amplified.”

Both Spencer and Channick agree that public relations can work with native advertising to increase a company’s credibility and reach.

“For example, if a brand’s product receives an amazing review on CNET, they can then take that post and turn it into a native ad with Sharethrough technology,” Channick said.

Spencer spoke about her recent article, in which she details the clout public relations brings to the content marketing industry. According to Spencer, PR increases brand awareness and lead pool, challenges the content team to think about the greater good and provides ‘hits’ that strengthen corporate credibility and brand communication.

What’s next?
There are two sides to the great native advertising debate. Some say that it misleads consumers, while others make the case that it is helping to save journalism by pumping revenue back into publications. Both views are valid. At times, sponsored content can appear to lead consumers to believe it is something other than what it seems. However, if executed correctly, it will serve to do the opposite, and ethically engage the audience.

“I think the best marketers aren’t at all trying to trick customers into buying their products; they are really, genuinely, trying to educate or entertain their audiences.” Spencer said.

As for the other side of the coin, readers are not actively purchasing their news anymore. Media companies need to pay those who create their content, and to them the marriage of native advertising and editorial content is the perfect solution. Consumers and those involved in the communications industry can expect to see the relationship between media companies and brands grow stronger through native advertising.

“Major brand advertisers like Pepsi, Intel, Jim Beam and Nestle use Sharethrough to distribute content, and a number of our customers are spending $1M+ through the platform,” Channick said.

8331889564_d72d499639_oFor Spencer, native advertising will continue to generate strong amounts of revenue for media companies, “as marketers become more intelligent in their efforts with the advent of Big Data.”


  1. Post comment

    I never thought native advertising could go a long way if done properly. I mean it is really surprising for any types of businesses this year. Do you use it too? Anyways, I like reading your posts. They are so good and entertaining.

  2. Post comment

    Katie, I really enjoyed this article. We were just assigned mock sponsored content pieces in our APR 332 class, and skimming credible news websites to find examples of native advertising proved to be frighteningly difficult. They are effective, but definitely exist in an ethical gray area.


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