You’ve probably been seeing the terms “native advertising” and “branded content” (also known as “sponsored content”) a lot lately.
Native advertising and branded content are the future, according to many pundits. Audiences are tuning out of commercials during program breaks and viewing content on tablets and smart phones. They want to be entertained and get the information they need when they want it.
Many people feel the terms are interchangeable but there is a subtle difference. Even the smallest company can buy into the game, in a small way. So what the heck are they?
Native advertising is paid advertising. The ads are meant to appear as if they are part of the editorial content of a magazine or newspaper. In the olden days, we called this kind of content Advertorials.
They often appear as multi-page inserts in magazines and newspapers. To distinguish them from “Earned Media,” the new-age term for editorial content, “Advertisement” is shown at the top of the advertorial, but not too large, please.
The content is usually written by PR people or copywriters, and never by the editorial staff of the publication.
It doesn’t cost much to get started. But as my own results showed, like any other form of advertising, you’ll need to commit a substantial budget in your “bid” to have your posts and tweets show up high in search within these social networks.
An excellent example of native advertising is an article in Wired, in which Mitch Hurwitz, a star of Netflix’s “Arrested Development,” pops up in a video to discuss how TV is changing. Netflix sponsored the article.
Of course, he pointed out that viewers are watching more quality shows like those on Netflix. For more examples, you can read HubSpot’s 9 Examples of Native Ads People Actually Enjoyed Reading.
Branded (or sponsored) content is advertising co-mingled with editorial. When you see the stars in a movie drinking Cokes, that didn’t happen by accident. That’s a paid ad, or what’s called a product placement.
Branded content isn’t new. In the 1930s, Procter & Gamble began producing and sponsoring radio soaps, and then television soap operas.
Branded content is growing so fast that a few years ago advertisers formed a Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA), to share best practices and showcase the most successful campaigns.
Coca-Cola is considered a trailblazer in branded content. In launching Coca-Cola Journey the company declared its “home page re-launch marks a final break with the corporate website. You read it here first: for consumers, the corporate website is dead and ‘press release PR’ is on its way out.”
The new site is filled with branded stories with information that consumers tell Coke they want with links to Coke’s social media networks. Coke’s brand message is totally integrated into its website and social content.
The Down Side
What’s good for the advertisers may not be so fine for the audiences of major content distribution channels like TV, print, and social media. Does someone who conducts a search in Twitter for an authority on a topic know the first post that pops up is a sponsored tweet?
PR uses the term “third party endorsement” when a company pitches a reporter with a story that eventually gets published.
That’s great PR for the company and its products, but the publisher retains editorial control and can include both the good and the bad. Readers and viewers tend to believe these stories. If it appears in The New York Times or on CBS News it must be true, right?
But what if that content is actually advertising masquerading as editorial content? Is it still believable? Is the content accurate?
That’s why in surveys, as shown in the infographic below, 75% of respondents said ethics must play a role in native ads. We need to challenge a publisher that accepts a native ad that wildly inflates a product claim.
While both native and branded advertising are hot, 55% of advertisers haven’t jumped into the ring yet because they are not familiar enough with it and another 27% were concerned about transparency.
That’s good news. The world is changing and we’ll see more native and branded advertising. We just need to trust that advertisers and content distribution channels will be faithful in identifying what is editorial and what is advertising.