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Native Advertising: Harmful or Harmless?

October 27, 2015   Posted By Joel Goldstein

My colleague Tom Andel, one of our agency’s account managers, wrote recently about Native Advertising.  That’s the increasingly popular practice of magazines, newspapers and websites running articles, video and infographics written by advertisers and labeled as “Sponsored Content” or “Paid Content.” 

As a journalist and former trade magazine editor, one who believes passionately in objectivity and clear journalistic ethics, Tom wrote in his recent Goldstein Group blog post that this trend is both disturbing and a disservice to readers.

Here’s something that’s not a surprise to those who know me:  I disagree.

It’s a basic truth in journalism today that staffs are thin and media resources are stretched. They just can’t cover their territories or “beats” with the depth they’d like.  Even major magazines have shockingly small editorial staffs that force them to rely on outside contributors and guest writers.  Perhaps it’s sad, and it’s certainly different than the hard-hitting journalistic-infused newspapers of the past.  But it’s our reality today.

So is it misleading to publish something that looks like a New York Times article in the New York Times, but label it in small print as “Sponsored Content?”  Does native advertising even rise to the level of deceitful, as some suggest?

Naw.  I’m a marketer, despite my college degree in journalism.  I’m going to let the New York Times and other media moguls worry about their ethics.  In fact, we’ve been surrounded by native advertising for years:

-          Marketers have been running commercials on TV and radio, and we’ve all recognized them as a paid message by an advertiser. 

-          We’ve been pitching PR story ideas to reporters who then write articles about those topics – under the reporter’s own byline. 

-          Magazines have been running advertiser-written ads and articles labeled “advertorial” for quite a while. 

-          More recently, Google has been presenting to us paid ads on the right margin of a search page under the heading “Ads” as part of our paid search engine programs.

And to me, that’s the point – all this “misleading” content is actually labeled, either as sponsored or as advertising.  Are readers tricked by this?  Are they unable to make a distinction between the objective writing of a journalist from the bias of a marketer? I think readers are savvy.  I think they know.  And I have faith in a reader’s ability to make judgments about what is fact and what is less than factually objective.

Is this all just a natural evolution, an unavoidable erosion of trust in media?  Will it lead to a lack of trust in all journalism?  Perhaps.  But that’s the province of journalism scholars.  If we do a good job of creating content that’s interesting, compelling, and helps our clients’ customers do their jobs better, then that’s a win for everyone, no matter how it’s labeled.  And that’s the standard we’ll work to uphold.

To read what my colleague Tom Andel has to say about Native Advertising click here.

 

Joel Goldstein, Goldstein Group Communications

 

 

Written by Joel Goldstein:

Goldstein Group agency president who builds “Measurably Better Marketing” programs that create WOW experiences for clients.

 

 

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