this just in: advertising is going native. advertising is creeping out of sidebars and banners and perching proudly ‘mongst the stuff we actually read. “sponsored posts” on facebook, twitter and linkedin are a long way from the advertorials of yore. do native advertising, and its kissing cousin sponsored content, work? yes, indeed – if they’re done right. marketers must take care, however, to avoid situations where the audience feels deceived. herein a tale of lost innocence.
everybody loves an expert…
specialization is one of the oldest business models around. the online world is filled with sites claiming to be the preeminent resource on some topic or other. they offer how-to articles, lists by the bucketful, cautionary tales of how readers are “doing it wrong” and the like. you have probably visited one today. advertisers seek out publishers who have successfully built an audience matching their target audience. reviews of new products and “best of” pieces are among the most valuable content on these expert sites for many readers. these pieces offer real value for people just learning about the topic, as well as more experienced types who want to stay current with the latest trends.
millenial career site the muse modestly describes itself as “your ultimate career destination.” to that end, the site promises “exciting job opportunities, expert advice, and a peek behind the scenes into fantastic companies and career paths.” I like the muse, even though its target audience is clearly a few decades younger than I am. I suppose the same could be said about guilty pleasure nashville – call me an outlier.
I also really like and use baydin‘s boomerang on my desktop and my phone. so I was excited when I clicked through on the muse’s daily email about an email add-on the author described as “essentially the best thing to ever happen to email” was one I’ve had in the toolkit for a while.
…but not when the opinion is a sales pitch
I read erin greenawald‘s glowing review in the muse. she hit all the features that made me like the gmail add-on so much. I started writing a shout out tweet to share the piece with my network, but I paused to double-check baydin’s twitter handle. I scrolled up to the top to where I’d glimpsed the boomerang logo to click through to the baydin site and…that’s when I saw it.
say it ain’t so, joe. baydin wasn’t just advertising on the muse. it wasn’t sponsoring a regular muse feature. the maker of boomerang was buying a review…of boomerang.
sad trombone. I had a brief twitter exchange with erin:
what erin lightly calls “a natural partnership” is akin to “nashville” mayor teddy’s dalliance with an escort. you want to believe that love triumphs over commerce, but it’s a tough sell. in the mayor’s defense, he didn’t know till after the deed was done that the lady was a pro. in the muse’s defense, copy in the review is not lifted straight off the boomerang site and erin included several relevant links that add to its value. but jeez louise, guys.
erin points out that I figured out the piece was sponsored, perhaps implying that I need a little more fiber in my diet. but I was not aware it was a paid piece when I was reading it. I saw the sponsorship info off in the left sidebar by accident. adweek published a few columns last summer in the wake of a survey about how people felt about sponsored content. it turns out they don’t like it. Two thirds of respondents said they “felt deceived” by editorial content subsidized by an advertiser. Even worse, from the muse’s perspective, readers weren’t just pissed at the message. nearly 60% said publishers of sponsored content were less credible.
a column the following day highlighted a successful content sponsorship. unilever partnered with upworthy on a campaign for the corporation’s project sunlight initiative for kids (you knew it was gonna be kids, right? or maybe puppies). a grudgingly respectful piece in the atlantic described upworthy as “clickbait with a conscience,” but there is no mistaking the dedication to transparency. all posts in the unilever series, for example, including this disclaimer in the body of the post:
so in answer to erin’s question “how can we do it better?” I would start by discouraging companies from sponsoring reviews of their own product (notice how unilever’s sponsorship was not of a soap review). second, be very clear about what is going on right in the piece as in the disclosure statement above.
like deacon clayborne, I’ve been hurt bad. but maybe I can love again.
a few links below to more on native advertising & sponsored content.