Brands face risks from the dishonesty of 'Native Advertising'

Brands face risks from the dishonesty of 'Native Advertising'

Summary: Companies strive to create a unique look and feel to their brands. Yet native advertising mimics the brand of a publisher to promote paid content.

TOPICS: E-Commerce

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. 

Fake Versace

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?

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Topic: E-Commerce

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  • Response to adblockers

    Native advertising only became a hit, because more and more people employed ad blockers, and thus the classic, easily recognizable form of advertising became useless and didn't reach anybody.

    So it really makes no sense to blame advertisers and media, because it was the dishonesty of the ad blockers, the breach of "you get the content free, for tolerating the (banner) ads" contract that created the reactionary shift towards native advertising.
    • Nope

      > "So it really makes no sense to blame advertisers and media, because it was the dishonesty of the ad blockers, the breach of "you get the content free, for tolerating the (banner) ads" contract that created the reactionary shift towards native advertising."

      Ad blockers are dishonest? That's an opinion that could only come from an advertiser.

      There is no contract between myself and any web page I visit, implied or otherwise, and blocking content is not dishonest. I block almost all advertising, because it's my internet connection and it's my choice what goes over it, not some stupid bloody advertiser's. So what if a site relies on advertising revenue? That's, quite frankly, their problem, not mine. "But think of the children!" the advertisers scream! "Everything you use on the web will disappear without advertising!" they say. Bull. The web had plenty of decent free content in the 90's before the mad rush to generate income from web hits spawned the hypertext sewage system people now navigate. Honestly it could stand to see the bulk of it disappear and we'd all be better off.

      You may or may not be correct about the cause of the rise of native advertising. I happen think it's just in the slimy advertisers' nature to shovel their crap in any way they can.
      • @Nope

        Beautifully put, indeed!
  • It's existed for decades.

    I still get paper mail envelopes emblazoned with "Official Notice" which are just junk mail disguised as government correspondence. Magazines still have "advertorials" that pretend to be news but with faint "Special Advertising Section" markings in the margins. The web versions of that include in-line ads in Yahoo and Google pages that look like search results or news articles. Heck there are tens of thousands of websites set up to look like legitimate sites but are nothing but giant ads.

    Why? Because they work. No matter how much negative feelings they might generate about the brand or the product, some people are still influenced enough by them to click and buy.
    terry flores
    • Nice observation

      The comparison to deceptive snail mail is very apt.

      Anyone who isn't using an ad blocker on the web is missing out on a much cleaner and faster web.

      What would be really nice is an even more powerful filtering capability built into the browsers themselves.
  • Native advertising is like the endorsements in movies and on TV

    The next time you watch a movie look for the hundreds of brand names that are being endorsed, same goes for shows like reality TV. The judges are not sitting there and drinking Pepsi because they like it. Its just a way for advertisers to promote their products without making the audience feel that the show is being interrupted so they see an advertisement of Pepsi. Imagine what affect this would have if the pseudo-independent news channels started giving each of their news readers a bottle of Pepsi to drink from when they take a small break. The viewers are no longer going to trust any of their content. I think Native Advertising is in a way diluting the credibility of the content posted by websites. IF zdnet were to have pics of its authors in samsung t-shirts would any of us even bother visiting the content here.