Native Badvertising Weaves Tangled Web

16 Feb Native Badvertising Weaves Tangled Web

Bad news local media nation: Already we are screwing up the native advertising opportunity.

I’ve been on the road four weeks of the first six weeks of this year and read local newspapers big and small, good and bad.

Friday morning the local paper I picked up — a well-respected metro paper — featured an article singing the sophisticated praises of plantation blinds as the lead story above the fold of its real estate section. Less than two paragraphs in I was certain I was reading a native ad.

The problem: nothing told the reader that this content was paid for or sponsored by an advertiser. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a HUGE mistake.

How huge is it?

According to Ad Age, emarketer recently estimated that native advertising would be a $4.3 BILLION business in 2015. BAI/Kelsey estimates that native social advertising will reach $5.3 billion in 2015 and nearly double by 2018.

No matter what estimate you choose to believe, pretty soon this adds up to be real money. That kind of dough should not be trifled with.

Here’s the thing: the Federal Trade Commission takes a dim view of misleading our readers by not clearly identifying content that is paid for and created on behalf of an advertiser.

  • As an industry do we really want to get crosswise with the FTC and undermine a fast growing, multi-billion dollar business? I think not.
  • As an industry do we want to get a reputation for presenting content that readers cannot trust? Again I think not.
  • As an industry do we want to undermine the credibility we have worked hard for decades even hundreds of years to establish in the communities we serve? I think not.

It is more than astounding to me that a well-known newspaper did just that one morning last week. Or maybe it is not so astounding.

According to Polar’s Kunal Gupta, writing for, there are four threats to native advertising in 2015:

  1. Readers reject native advertising
  2. The FTC regulates native advertising
  3. The lowest common denominator wins (publishers sacrifice quality, clarity and price)
  4. Publishers forget to invest in a distribution model.

To this list I would add just plain stupidity. Not labeling native ads and sponsored content is wrong: morally, ethically, intellectually and commercially wrong. Yet newspapers like the one I read seem determined to kill the goose that currently holds the most promise of a positive pathway forward.

Better we should follow the example of Anna Watkins, managing director of Guardian Labs who says:

“We can’t afford to jeopardise trust, and that’s difficult for certain brands to get on board with. If it’s sponsored, it has to be editorially independent. We’re hard and fast about that.

“Native advertising in its worst instances can imply hoodwinking the reader [into thinking] that a commercial message is independent editorial. That’s a short-term win, and our approach is about maintaining trust of the readers.”

Guardian Labs has rejected a number of brands that do not fit with the newspaper’s ethos, according to Marketing Magazine.

Native advertising holds great promise. However all bets are off if newspapers and other local media choose to mislead readers in the pursuit of a few easy bucks. We need to get our act together local media nation, and fast.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.