Native Advertising and Sponsored Content: Are you in? Or are you out?

Sifting through marketing options for your business can be tedious and deciphering the jargon and deciding best fit can be just as confusing. If you are working with a marketing firm, you have likely heard words like “paid media”, “native advertising” or “sponsored content,” and they may even be part of your current marketing strategy.

In 2016, Business Insider contributor, Margaret Boland reported that “Native advertising will drive 74% of all ad revenue by 2021.” According to content marketing services company, Brandpoint, “Paid media must play a role in your overall strategy.” And, there is some merit to this: Click-thru rates and engagement with native advertising and sponsored content is higher than it is for other online advertising methods, such as the banner ads we would all like to welcome into extinction.

Sponsored content and native advertising are more and more prominent in the marketing sphere, and sometimes confused as the same thing. So, let’s first distinguish between the two:

Some great examples of native advertising appear in this article. Native advertising is an ad sold to a business with guaranteed placement in mind. Its content can be played, read, watched, and has to be relevant to the other content on the page. For example, if you are looking up a recipe for homemade burgers, Bick might have an ad featuring pickles integrated into the story somewhere on the webpage.

Different types of native advertising include In-feed, Paid Search Units, Recommendation Widgets and Promoted Listings. For a more in-depth explanation of these native advertising types, check out this helpful playbook.

Sponsored content (a.k.a. Editorial, a.k.a. Content Advertising) is an exchange or partnership between publisher and business and not considered an ad. For example, popular media outlets, like Postmedia, New York Times, BuzzFeed or Huffington Post, trade paid-for content for brand exposure. It often appears in longer form—an article, or even short film. Here are some inspiring examples of sponsored content from Cole Haan and Netflix.

But native advertising and sponsored content are not without critics and controversy. Some argue that it breaches trust between publishers and public if it is content paid for by a third party. Online advertising software firm, Wordstream, reiterates where some of the controversy lies: “If The New York Times publishes a ‘story’ by Dell in exchange for money, can the Times objectively report on matters relating to Dell, or has every mention of the company been paid for?” Some see it as trickery, as most audiences do not know the meaning of native advertising or recognize that content might be sponsored.

On the other hand, disclosure of these marketing methods is mandatory; every article, video, and image that appears online and in print is labeled as “sponsored” or “advertising” if the content is paid for. As well, regulatory bodies are beginning to keep a closer watch on marketing activities.

According to Wordstream, “The Federal Trade Commission is considering implementing regulatory measures on brands using native ads to promote their products, and the FTC has also indicated it may monitor the market closely to ensure that native advertising is being used in a manner that benefits consumers. The American Society of Magazine Editors has also called for greater transparency and oversight when it comes to native advertising.”

Maybe native advertising and sponsored content is walking a thin line in a world where we already have trouble trusting our news outlets. But it’s also easy to see how these two additional tools in our business’ marketing strategy tool belt can establish credibility, not to mention produce some differentiating and entertaining content.

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