Why native advertising is here to stay – but it must be fully transparent

Display banner advertising has undergone a decline nearly as rapid as that of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. In fact it’s bred a new term, ‘banner blindness’, which although not taking the Oxford Dictionary by storm, still captures the dilemma perfectly.
It’s no surprise then that publishers are looking at other revenue channels that offer their advertising clients new and innovative ways of engaging with consumers. The latest of these, native advertising, is one I feel will stay the course and last well into the future, both online and in print.
For the uninitiated, native advertising is the way in which publishers integrate their advertising within the content of a magazine, newspaper or website. Rather than create a clear delineation between ads and editorial content, native advertising seeks to blend both into a coherent entity where the relevancy of the ads and editorial is seamless. However, there is one proviso – publishers must not seek to trick their readers into thinking the ads are part of the editorial.
This last point is crucial but has still caught out one or two top-tier publishers. Shape magazine, published by American Media, recently came under fire in the US for “blurring the line between advertising and editorial content in a way which could confuse consumers” according to the US ad industry’s voluntary self-regulation body NAD (National Advertising Division).
The magazine, the largest title in the US active lifestyle sector with a circulation of 1.6m, was taken to task for labelling a promotion for its Shape Water Boosters as news. The NAD ruled that the company should “clearly and conspicuously designate content as advertising” when promoting its own products within its publication.
Native advertising has since come under scrutiny from the US Federal Trade Commission, which notes that 73 per cent of online publishers currently offer native advertising opportunities. The FTC now wants to establish guidelines for clearly labelling native advertising, something that is sure to follow suit in the UK.
The increased attention from regulatory authorities can only be welcomed because for native advertising to have any long-term future, reader transparency must remain key. Magazine brands are painstakingly built upon trust and that cannot be eroded for commercial gain. For this reason alone, native advertising solutions must be carefully devised, sensitively crafted and executed to perfection.

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