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Native Instincts about Native Advertising

Posted on Friday, November 29, 2013 at 12:28 AM

For many editors, the idea of native advertising just doesn't seem right at a primal level.

By William Dunkerley

"Brands want advertising that looks and feels like actual editorial content..." reported AdWeek magazine in its August 8, 2013, edition. The article goes on to suggest that publications are uniquely positioned to facilitate the brand-advertisers' desires. "But how do they do that without selling out?" AdWeek questions.

What Is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is the latest buzz term for what's long been called an advertorial. Some argue that there are distinct differences between native ads and advertorials. There may be. But the fundamental connecting thread is that both types of ads are designed to look like editorial content.

For some years now, the buzz about native advertising has been on an upswing. It seems to have originated in connection with online advertising, but it has started to migrate to print as well. A number of major publications are now offering it, and some are even establishing departments for creating advertiser copy.

Our Survey

We did a quick survey of Editors Only readers to get a sense of how widespread these practices are and what opinions editors have about them. Our survey was only anecdotal, not statistical, but it was striking that well over three quarters of the editors reported that their publications do not carry native advertising. Even more striking is that of those that do carry, almost all expressed some form of negativity about the practice.

Steve Glazner, editor of Facilities Manager, said his publication's policy is "to allow native ads, begrudgingly." He says, "We definitely discourage our advertisers from going this route." Steve has actually taken things a step further. His publication has instituted a whitepaper series for which companies can provide articles. It is distributed not with his magazine, but along with a biweekly online newsletter.

Skip Ogden of iBluegrass magazine says the native ads he runs must contain subject matter of interest to his readers. He reserves the right to edit content. Skip adds, "I don't like running these ads, as it often devalues our overall content; so we're extremely picky."

At Food Processing & Wellness Foods magazine, editor-in-chief Dave Fusaro says he rarely runs content-heavy ads, which his editors have no role in writing or producing. Fusaro says he had not been familiar with the term "native advertising" but that he finds it "distasteful for some reason." (Note: A number of other editors had not heard of native advertising, either.)

Many editors whose publications do not carry native ads were very pointed about their views on the topic. Bradley Shreve of Tribal College Journal said, "We do not run advertiser content that looks like editorial, and my opinion of [the practice] is very low." "We don't like native advertising, and we don't like it when ads look like articles," said David Bolling from Sanoma magazine. C.G. Masi, a writer for numerous publications, reports that none of his clients have ever accepted ads that look like editorial. "It's a major no-no because our readers see through it instantly," he adds.

Dan Markham at Metal Center News opines, "I'm not in favor of further blurring the lines between advertising and editorial." Greg Barker, editor of Voice Council magazine, also sums up his view of native advertising: "It often is the antithesis of good content." Or, as Curtis Phillips, senior technical editor of Wine Business Monthly, puts it, "We still practice journalism, as outmoded a concept as that appears to have become."

Why Are Native Ads Becoming So Popular?

While our editorial instincts may lead us to abhor ads that look like editorial, there's another angle to all this. We need to question why advertisers are gravitating toward ads that masquerade as editorial content in the first place. I'm not aware of any research that supports the view that textual ads are more effective than display advertising. So why do advertisers want native advertising?

The clamoring for native started in the online segment of the publishing business. And advertising in online publications has been problematic all along. There's yet to be a format that is really successful. Banner ads have proven themselves to be ineffectual; pop-ups and auto-start videos are extremely annoying. Moreover, technologies exist or are being developed to thwart them. Perhaps the push for native advertising is just another blind attempt to find a formula that works for advertising online.

Another possibility is that advertisers may feel thwarted in their efforts to gain exposure for their points of view or to get their products covered editorially to a degree they consider sufficient. If that's the problem, we as editors need to recognize and deal with it.

Should we find ways to give greater legitimate editorial coverage to the views of advertisers? Do we need to feature more content that deals with products that are of significant interest to our readers? Food for thought: many readers actually consider ads to be part of the content that interests them in a magazine. Just last week, a publisher told me that click-throughs on some ads exceed those for much of the editorial content.

Dave Zola, executive news editor at WardsAuto World magazine, chimes in with his thoughts: "As an editor, I realize that advertisers are looking for new ways to reach their audiences. I think we have to be open to them. Our own audience also is looking for multiple sources of information, including some things that our advertisers can bring."

If we're giving short shrift to legitimate editorial coverage of advertisers and their products, we may be inviting two unintended consequences. The first is that our readers may be getting shortchanged on content that interests them. The second is that we may be unwittingly stimulating the advertiser demand for native advertising.

Please give that some thought.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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