Native advertising isn’t going away. Recognizing a new way to make the cash register go ka-ching, media properties have been implementing native advertising as fast as they can stuff the dollars into their pockets. You can’t really blame them. Eroding revenue over such a long period of time would cause a certain “grabbiness” in any industry.
The New York Time, the latest big media brand to get the native advertising religion, explained that the decision will help “restore digital advertising revenue to growth.” Those words from the NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Before taking it further, one of the better definitions of native advertising comes from Dan Greenberg at Pando Daily:
In our view, native advertising should be broadly defined as ad strategies that allow brands to promote and weave their custom content into the endemic experience of a website or app. These native ad experiences differ from traditional digital ad formats such as display and pre-roll because they are choice-based placements (i.e., non-interruptive) that are well integrated into the visual design and content feel of a publisher’s site.
But here’s where the plot thickens.
When does “well integrated into the visual design and content feel of a publisher’s site” morph into fooling readers to think they’re reading journalism? It’s a classic Catch 22. The better you integrate native advertising into journalism (non-interruptive), the more the line blurs between the two and fools the reader. And I’ve never seen a brand study that showed that fooling the target audience cultivates loyalty and repeat “buys.”
Which brings me to The Wall Street Journal.
Given the Journal’s prestige, I just assumed this is one of the publications that would tread carefully into the land of native advertising (even if their attempt at BuzzFeed-like storytelling was dreadful).
In the screen below, you see a page with Journal’s interpretation of native advertising with Deloitte footing the bill for the real estate.
The Deloitte content is clearly labeled as sponsored. Clicking on the content brings up this:
If you scrutinize the typeface, line length, etc., against the Journal’s editorial content, it’s easy to understand how a reader might think this is journalism. Still the Journal tags the Deloitte content as sponsored and even includes the words, “Please note: The Wall Street Journal’s News Department was not involved in the creation of the content below.”
It’s all so transparent … so far.
Since Deloitte’s content focused on cybersecurity, I plugged [cybersecurity] into the Journal’s search engine, which you see below:
Are you kidding me? (I repeated the search, so consider this a rhetorical question.)
The Deloitte content shows up fourth in the search results and oh by the way, a second piece of Deloitte content “earns” the sixth slot.
The Journal’s search engine doesn’t appear to distinguish between sponsored content and journalism, raking through a database that blends the two. There is no way in a million years the typical reader is going to figure out that the moniker under the search result in micro type “Deloitte Risk & Compliance” means it’s paid. This line further blurs given the Deloitte result is surrounded by results of of legit journalism that look exactly the same. Once readers click, the psychology is not to be on the lookout for disclaimers.
The Federal Trade Commission held a workshop on native advertising earlier in the month prompting Mary Engle, the FTC’s associate director of the advertising practices division, to admit, “This has raised more questions than it answered.”
Ms. Engle, you might want to add this question to your list.