He may not know it, but Shel Holtz has been taking up a little space in my home for the better part of a decade. His book, Public Relations on the Net, was required reading in a graduate class in 2001. This has made him one of my infuencers before influencer entered the popular PR lexicon.
When he recently wrote, what appeared to me an endorsement of native advertising as a tactic, it caused me to do a digital double take. This is because I believe native ads are engineered to be misleading.
The “native” in these advertisements means this brand content is specifically designed to appear as editorially independent content. If that’s not misleading, I don’t know what misleading means.
Meanwhile, spending on native ads is estimated to approach $3 billion this year.
The FCC, Google and Native Ads
For a long while I thought both the FCC and Google had similar sentiments:
Yet, the FCC seems hell bent these days, on squashing the democratic foundation of the net, while Google’s last algorithm update gave BuzzFeed a boost. BuzzFeed, in my opinion, creates regurgitates content of little value, iced with click-bait headlines, and are helping to pioneer a science for creating ads that masquerades as news:
In the latest sign of the debate, BuzzFeed is preparing to overhaul the way it discloses sponsored content to its users. Until now it has typically referred to paid posts as being “presented by” a sponsor when they appear as links on its homepage, and the paid posts themselves have carried the name of the advertiser above a “BuzzFeed partner” label.
Is such content popular? Clearly. Is it relevant – as in return search results relevant? Doubtful. It may cause users who turn to Google to answer a question, finding themselves 20 minutes later fiddling with a mindless online game that BuzzFeed promoted.
The State of Native Ads
There are indeed a study or two that suggests the public has a tolerance for native ads. One such study, which included a sample of 107 college kids “and 150 respondents over the age of 45” suggested:
…that native ads have minimal negative impact on the credibility of news sites — although this may simply be due to the fact that some people, especially older news consumers, don’t identify them as ads in the first place.
Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report reinforces the notion that people don’t identify native ads as ads in the first place. What’s amazing about Copyblogger’s study, is that it serves a sophisticated online audience (marketers) – people that ought to be in the know!
- 73% of respondents don’t know or are “hardly familiar” with native advertising
- 51% are “skeptical” which is ironic since most don’t know what it is
- 9% had a budget for native ads
- <1% spend $5,000 a month on native ads – suggesting few own that $3 billion spend
- 70% are disinclined to offer native ads as a service – remember these are marketers
- 39% – a minority – believe native ads mislead users – yet they don’t know what it is
- Yet 69% would be “somewhat” or “very much” concerned if brands “reported the news”
I am not opposed to advertising – and sponsored content can be an effective tactic – but it needs to be done in a manner where readers can easily distinguish between paid and earned. The state of native advertising as it stands today, is clearly confused.
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In the meantime, Holtz has, in a decade or so, traded shelf-space for screen space – especially when it comes to native advertising.
Here’s the complete infographic:
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Infographic: The State of Content Marketing; Rich Getting Richer