Native advertising is the name now given to what magazine and newspaper publishers used to call advertorial. This was advertising content masquerading as editorial, deliberately blurring the distinction between the two.
Editors traditionally strove to be objective and independent of commercial and proprietorial influence, while advertising space was bought and paid for by advertisers and their agents, who filled it with content of their own making. Editors have always been keen to distinguish between the two, both in order to protect readers from their title’s apparent endorsement of commercial products or services, and in order to ensure the integrity of their own copy. After all, editorial reviews of books, movies, restaurants, cars, holiday destinations and so on would be worthless if subject to commercial influence.
Editors would always insist that advertorials used different fonts and layouts to the editorial style and included a large heading in bold caps, reading “ADVERTISING FEATURE”. Advertisers tried to bend the rules but, though advertising managers sought to impress editors with the vast revenues at stake, editors knew that it was the integrity of editorial content that guaranteed a title’s readership figures.
I detect a buzz around native advertising in online publications as publishers cast around for the elusive money-making formula that might one day make their businesses viable. As they struggle with issues surrounding paywalls, declining readerships, the glut of online advertising inventory and its consequent low value, native advertising is a tempting way to give brands access to their customers. I am afraid that any financial gains will be more than paid for by the loss of editorial integrity.
As publishers cut costs, the quality of their content has already fallen: there is less original material; more stock photographs; more bland agency stories and more mistakes now that most of the subeditors have gone.
I fear that, although it might look like a publisher’s lifebelt, native advertising will prove to be a lead weight that will only hasten their demise.