See Jan. 8 update, at end of this post...
I don't like buzzwords. They're pretentious, as are the people who tend to overuse them.
Take "engagement" for example. It was the marketing buzzword a year or two ago. I remember when it simply meant the step people often take before marriage.
"Native advertising" is another one of those buzzwords I'm getting sick of. And despite how much we see it used in the marketing media, I've come across a few people in marketing and PR circles who really don't know what it means. Very simply, it's what's been known for decades as "advertorials" -- ads made to look like the editorial content of the publication in which they appear. It's a game, an attempt to lure readers into the ad by having them think it's part of the news or features of the newspaper or magazine they're reading. Legitimate media will run the words "Paid Advertisement" or "Paid Promotion" above the advertorial, to give fair disclosure it's not part of the publication's editorial content.
But advertorials -- I mean, native advertising -- are often harder to spot when they're running online. The government, through the Federal Trade Commission, has been looking into this and is working on a set of guidelines. The FTC has already come down on bloggers who post paid endorsements and product reviews without disclosing that they've been compensated.
The New York Times, which has been stepping up efforts to enhance and more aggressively monetize its online presence, just announced it will take extra efforts to be sure so-called native advertising is clearly delineated as such, so readers won't be confused into thinking paid advertorials on the Times' websites represent actual Times reporting. Executive editor Jill Abramson has spoken publicly about her concerns that the line between editorial and advertising will become blurred. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger sent a memo to Times staffers this week detailing plans for native advertising online amd also empahasizing "...there will be no confusion between advertising and journalism. We will ensure that there is never a doubt in anyone's mind about what is Times journalism and what is advertising."
Sulzberger added, "Our readers (online) will always know they are looking at a message from an advertiser." Advertorials will include a distinctive color bar that says "Paid Post" along with the advertiser's logo. Advertorials will also use a different typeface than editorial content, and the ads will be wrapped in blue to further distinguish them from the site's news content.
A story in Advertising Age says The Wall Street Journal and Forbes are also looking at similar ways to be sure native advertising is not confused with those publications' real content online.
Good for them. I hope other media follow their lead.
For those of us in public relations, it's business as usual -- looking for ways to make client information of newsworthy interest so editors will want to include it in their reporting. But native advertising may open some new income opportunities for PR folks, since we are practiced at writing in journalistic style while weaving in client messages in a non-obtrusive way. Hey, ad and marketing people... call us.
Update: Jan. 8, 2014 -- Business Insider has a good review of the first "native ad" that's running on The New York Times' newly revamped website today. Click here to see their positive review, along with some screen shots of the new site and how the ads are positioned and clearly identifed.