An Ad by Any Other Name…

Horse_SmallerPublished, sponsored or presented by, it’s all the same: content that appears as part of a paid placement is advertising. Yet many industry execs take issue with the term “ad,” saying it’s not an accurate description.

“Publishing executives uniformly disagree with the assertion that they’re trying to dupe readers,” writes Michael Sebastian in Ad Age. “Native ads fit with readers’ consumption habits, especially on mobile, where content is delivered in a feed, they argue. They also insist fooling readers will only anger and alienate them.”

And yet, Sebastian reports that a 2014 IAB/Edelman survey found “only 41% of consumers said native ads on a general news sites were clearly identified as paid for by a brand.

With the FTC warning publishers to avoid deceiving readers, it may be time for media brands to be just a bit clearer in their labeling.

The Atlantic (which famously ran afoul with awkwardly placed sponsored content) labels this paid editorial as “sponsor content”; BuzzFeed uses the term “Brand Publisher” in the byline; and Forbes is epically vague with its “[name of brand]Voice]” designation.

From a consumer point of view, it’s clearly confusing at best, and easy to miss. Media execs, however, put a different spin on it.

Sebastian spoke to The Daily Beast’s managing director Mike Dyer who said that “referring to these posts as an ‘advertisement’ would be a misrepresentation.

“A great display ad will divert people’s attention from what they sought out to do,” Dyer explained. “Content is the thing people are seeking out. It is the end of the behavior chain.”

Whatever they call it, let’s just be clear about what it is – paid placement, i.e. advertising. Readers are not getting a piece of editorial content; they are getting a piece of advertising or marketing collateral.

Advertising has always been a part of the media landscape, and there’s no reason to expect – or even want – it to go away. Indeed for most media brands it’s what keeps the lights on. But let’s not add subterfuge to the equation. If you’re going to allow this type of advertising into your brand’s published work, have the integrity to make it obvious. Your brand’s reputation will be the better for it.