Native advertising has become the poster child of content marketing as companies try to raise awareness of their brands through promotional content that looks similar to the native content of a media site.
Where is their brand as differentiator?
The value of a brand is well known and has been carefully cultivated since industrialization enabled mass commerce which required a global identifier for a company's products.
Brand identity is part science and part art. It is the distinctive look and feel of a brand. It's the logo and the colors and the typeface, and it can tap into a consumer's stored memories and emotions, and all the prior experiences people have with that brand. Its chief characteristic is that it is unique - there's nothing else that looks like it.
Companies pay millions of dollars to create a brand's visual look and appeal. And they spend far more to jealously guard it and protect it from anyone that tries to copy it, or from any other brand that tries to look even just slightly similar.
A brand's look is far more important than the design of any product especially in the fashion industry where there is no copyright on clothes but there is on the labels. Versace won't care much if you copy a shirt but if you copy its label it will hunt you down.
Yet in native advertising, a brand tries to make its content appear similar to the publication's look and feel. It's essentially trying to merge into the look of another brand — the media publisher's brand. It seems to go against all the rules of defining a brand, the chief rule being that it is unique.
There can only be one answer to why a company would allow its brands' distinctiveness to be masked by that of a publisher's brand, when publishing their promotional content as "native advertising": Disguise. It makes the paid content look as if it were produced by an independent third party — the media site itself. It is because readers trust content produced by the publisher but they don't trust paid content. It's plainly dishonest.
And as for the media publisher, why would it allow another company to mimic its brand even slightly? Why is the New York Times reducing the labeling on paid content? If a company allows others to mimic its look and feel it reduces the value of its own brand.
There are other ways to promote a brand's content that preserves the identity of the brand and the publisher. For example, Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera supports his site by providing his sponsors with links to their content. But that content lives on the sponsor's sites and it is very distinct, and is in line with the brand's look and feel. There is no confusion from the reader's view.
If the New York Times carried an ad that led readers to the brand's site to view content that was formatted to be distinctive and in line with the many elements that make the brand what it is, it would be far better than how paid content is presented in native advertising. The advertiser would also then have the chance to engage the visitors in related content and entice them into exploring its other brands. Visitors might even return on their own.
Studies have shown that readers don't like the subterfuge of native advertising and they think less of the publisher.
And it poisons the well. People become less trusting of the things they read and start to suspect that all media content is corrupt in some way. If they can't figure out who to trust it becomes a big problem for society.
Native advertising is disingenuous and plainly dishonest in its intent. Is that the association brands want?