Go native? Calling paid content what it is

3:52 PM, 4 March 2016
Native advertising

The boundaries between advertising and content were once very clear, and where they became blurred, advertorial was transparent. But as media outlets have narrowed the separation between editorial and business operations, promoted stories and content have taken on many forms. Great for embedding messages but what of consumer trust.

Sometimes you have to call them as you see them and when it comes to its native advertising, The Guardian has drawn a line in the sand. Last month, the British media group announced changes to how it labels both its native advertising and content "for greater transparency and clarity for readers and commercial partners across the world," the company said in a statement.


Like many publishers, the Guardian produces a variety of content with funding from outside parties. The presentation of the content should make clear how it has been commissioned and produced, and more importantly, who has funded it.

As such, one of two labels will now appear on content: 'Supported by' or 'Paid content/Paid for by'.

'Supported by' is used to describe editorially independent content as well as independent content that the Guardian has produced with funding from foundations around the world.

'Paid content/paid for by' is used to describe advertisement features that are paid for and controlled by the advertiser rather than the publisher, and are therefore subject to regulation by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the Advertising Standards Bureau in Australia.

Both of these definitions are much clearer and explicit than the 'brought to you by' and other messages such content used to carry.

The Guardian's adjustments come just a month after the US Federal Trade Commision (FTC) issued stricter guidelines about how publishers should label their native ads. For one, the organization said that it's not particularly fond about the vague "promoted" or "promoted stories" labels that are largely meaningless to readers.


As the rise of ad blocking shows, web users' aversion to online advertising is at an all-time high, prompting timid publishers to stamp their ads with fuzzier, more vague labels.

On the other hand, transparency has its upsides, both for publishers and the brands they're creating content for.

"Brands shouldn't have a vested interest in hiding when they've sponsored stuff. They're paying for it," said Sam Slaughter, VP of content at Contently. "The clearer a disclosure is, the more trustworthy the piece of content is."

So what's the bottomline? ANZA recommends: when in doubt, call it what its is. Yes, there might be other creative and descriptive ways to label your content, but defining it as an ad will not confuse anyone.

What your thoughts on native advertising? Does greater transparency lead to trust? All feedback, queries, and opinions are welcomed to lindsay@anza.co.nz

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