A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Native Advertising: Good or Evil?

Friday, February 1st, 2013

The term “native advertising” has been gaining more and more traction lately and depending on where you’re hearing about it, it’s either the next great thing or yet another sign of everything that’s wrong with advertising.

It’s not new, though the most visible recent examples are: things like promoted tweets on Twitter, featured videos on YouTube and sponsored Facebook stories.

What’s great or evil about these, depending on your perspective, is that they appear right in a user’s normal social media stream. So when I log in to YouTube, along with the squash videos I see (because there was just a great tournament at Grand Central and I was watching a lot of squash highlights) there might be a paid-for video about Little Giant ladders. (Because I was recently searching for a new ladder.)

I’ve heard folks position this as being somewhere between the completely disruptive advertising spots that interrupt your favorite TV show and the product placements that you might not even notice. (No, it’s not an accident that your favorite character on that favorite TV show is drinking the world’s favorite soft drink …)

That doesn’t seem accurate to me; this is clearly disruptive. (And probably unpopular for most.) So it’s hard to imagine the practice surviving in its current form for very long. Yes, Twitter and others are looking for ways to monetize their audiences, but I would expect there to be backlash that forces an evolution.

In fact, there’s already been one tremendously bad example that’s received a ton of coverage. The Atlantic provided space to Scientology for a “sponsored content” article. The outcry from their readership was swift. This wasn’t something that interested them, this wasn’t something that they expected from The Atlantic, and this wasn’t something they were interested in being force-fed.

The lesson here is similar to the basic tenets of content marketing more broadly. Effective content needs to be valuable to the audience not the publisher. (Information, not advertising.)

And when you’re looking for good content ideas, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay away from religion, mainstream or otherwise …




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