Suppose you own an art gallery in a trendy neighborhood in Chicago. You’ve spent countless hours designing the décor, creating an outstanding setting and hanging the artwork you know will appeal to your clientele. Your fans come back time and again because they appreciate the experience.
Now let’s say an art supply distributor wants to partner with you and, once a week, they’ll hang a few of their own pictures on the wall. They’ll even pay you for the privilege of doing so. All you have to do is provide the space.
Clearly this kind of approach could spell the end of your gallery’s hard-earned reputation.
While this illustration might sound far-fetched (what gallery owner in their right mind would allow this?) the concept is being played out in publications throughout the magazine spectrum, as cash-hungry publishers sell space for native advertising on their digital and print properties.
It’s not a new phenomenon – tabloid papers have been doing it for years, and you’ve probably read those pseudo-articles that look like real articles, but clearly are ads. With the dawn of the digital revenue stream for publishing, native advertising has become a much hotter ticket – and the advertising itself has become much more difficult to distinguish from editorial content. When the lines between advertising and editorial begin to blur, the brand is putting itself at risk.
This risk is being taken on by an estimated 62% of publishers, according to figures from Hexagram and Spada, a native ad exchange that also claims that 84% of publishers feel that native advertising adds value for their consumers.
The latest iteration of native advertising comes in the form of native ad servers like Sharethrough, which announced recently that Time Inc. is upping their game by expanding native ads in some of their publications. (Interestingly, a spokesperson for Time Inc. refused to confirm the news.)
In an ad-server arrangement, the publisher has even less control over the content, as it is digitally fed and seamlessly integrated into the publication. You’re probably familiar with the ad server concept from banner ads on the sites you visit.
Yet those banner ads are clearly ads. Not so with native ads. From their site: “Sharethrough’s native placements match the unique look and feel of your individual site; so you can get paid without sacrificing the user experience.”
In other words, it’s going to be difficult for your readers to tell if the content they are reading is from you, or from another brand buying space in your publication.
“Welcome to the future of web monetization,” proclaims Sharethrough’s site, and for bottom-line focused execs, it sounds like a dream. Yet it has the potential to turn into a nightmare for brand and editorial managers who strive to create a thoughtful and consistent reader experience.
As more publishers embrace the easy dollars of deceptive native advertising, they will undermine their credibility and dilute their voice. And that’s a risk no company should take lightly. Our readers, our customers, deserve more from us.