Native Advertising: The Balancing Act Between Editorial Needs and Ad Revenue Goals

Newsroom Balancing Act - When Journalism Meets Sponsored Content

Earlier this month, The New York Times launched the redesign of its online presence.

The idea behind the design was simple: De-clutter and strip away distractions, and draw readers to its journalism.

In addition to this renewed focus, the Times needed to ensure its story pages were a livable and profitable space for advertising. It noted that ad click-through rates doubled on its new single-column story pages, and users were four times more likely to pay attention to advertisements on the redesigned page versus the old one.

This balancing act is not new. While we all may dream of a world without ads, the reality is that publications need the funding.

As a result, news organizations are left with the task of determining how to best meet editorial needs and achieve ad revenue goals. One way publications have navigated this demand is through native advertising.

Native Advertising: The Basics

For news organizations, native ads are meant to mimic a given publication’s style and form.

Some examples: This ad for Adobe, created by The New York Times, and this one for Netflix, created by The Wall Street Journal.

In a world plagued by pop-ups and banner ads, having something that can break the mold in an engaging way is attractive to marketers.

For publications, creating and hosting branded content can provide a stable revenue stream that they very much need.

As native advertising continues to grow, it’s not a question of if news organizations should host native ads — it’s how.

“Time has been on native advertising’s side in several ways, but in one respect particularly: Opening a piece of sponsored content is entirely voluntary, and the customer decides how much to read or view,” writes Rick Edmonds, in Poynter’s Native advertising grows up fast, shedding its rogue image.

Some Things to Consider

There are guidelines for native advertising set in place by the Federal Trade Commission.

Essentially, the FTC dictates that consumers need to be informed if content is sponsored in any way. The more native the content, the more transparent the disclaimer needs to be.

“When a native ad appears on the main page of a publisher site or is republished in other media, it commonly consists of a headline, often combined with a thumbnail image and a short description, which, if clicked or tapped, leads to additional advertising content,” says the FTC. “Under FTC law, advertisers cannot use ‘deceptive door openers’ to induce consumers to view advertising content.”

Even with clear labeling, some still find it hard to trust content that imitates journalism, but ultimately was made to advertise a brand or product.

The rise of “fake news” could potentially impact the future of native advertising as well.

With so many people approaching online content with skepticism, news organizations and brands alike must be careful about how they craft content to preserve readers’ trust.

What is Native Advertising? Definition sourced from FTC

Native Advertisers: Be Fair and Accurate

Melanie Deziel, content strategist and former editor of branded content with The New York Times, explains one way to combat the native advertising skepticism is to create content that will bring value to readers.

In some ways, she says, the standards for native ads are almost higher than those for journalism, stating that “… brands have an extra responsibility to make their content fair, accurate, trustworthy and valuable so as to overcome the skepticism with which their readers may be approaching their content.”

She continues to explain that both kinds of content can — and should — tell honest, interesting, and valuable stories.

In the end though, the two are different, and the separation between news and native ads is important to maintain for both to continue bringing value to consumers.

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Jennifer (Davids) Flynn is a customer content specialist at PR Newswire. By day, she reads releases and advises clients on content best practices. By night (and weekends) she spends most of her time reading fiction and hanging out with her puppy.


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