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Why I dislike native advertisements

When the word I hear the word “advertising” I think of a commercial showcasing the benefits of a product or service in an attempt to make me buy it.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines advertising as:

— something (such as a short film or a written notice) that is shown or presented to the public to help sell a product or to make an announcement

— a person or thing that shows how good or effective something is

— the act or process of advertising.

I interpret this definition to mean that advertisements are obvious to the reader: that it is obvious to the reader what they are trying to accomplish.

Wrong.

There is another form of advertising that is different than the traditional advertising model of “Here’s my product, it is great because of A, B and C and you need it because of X, Y and Z so you should buy it.”  These advertisements are created in the form of content you’d see in a publication, like an editorial.  They are not explicitly labeled as advertisements and they are called native advertisements.

Random House Dictionary defines native advertising as:

1) Advertising content on a website that conforms to the design and format of the site and is integrated into the site’s usual content.

2) Native advertising that is almost indistinguishable from the paper’s news stories.

3) This type of online advertising, or the practice of advertising in this way.

These ads are no longer obvious to the reader because they mimic content surrounding it.  They aim to blend into the content so that readers see its advertisement as truth, as if it was an impartial review of a product or service.

I applaud advertisers for finding another platform for advertisements because users are quick to click “Skip Ad” when they appear on videos, fast forward through ads on recorded content on DVR devices, or zone-out during ads.  Native advertisements blur the line between content and advertisements making viewers less likely to tune it out.

At the same time, the content is not coming from an impartial source nor is it content exactly like the content found on the site: it has an ulterior motive.  Since I’ve learned about native advertisements in UNC’s Journalism school, I know to look for native ads.  I have been able to identify that some content is not like the rest of the content on the website, and I have then taken that article with a grain of salt.  Everyone doesn’t know about native advertisements, and this is where I find the issue.

Advertising Age reported on The New York Time’s native advertisements for 2014.  The NYT stated that native advertisements composed “inside 10 percent” of its digital-ad revenue, which amounts to $18 million spent on native ads.

On one hand, this can make a lot of money for businesses.  It expands the market for advertisements, especially for online content, and if they’re done well, it would have positive effects for the advertiser.

On the flip side, advertisements will be blended into real news content and only time will tell if consumers will be able to tell the difference between the two.  I have already seen a pattern of some of my Facebook friends (not to be confused with real-life friends) that interpret anything they see on the internet as truth which is a problem for multiple reasons, but native advertisements would not be ads in the eyes of these people (“What do you mean ‘you people’? What do you mean ‘you people’?! –Tropic Thunder, ha ha ha).  Beyond that, I don’t want to be skeptical about articles on a website like The New York Times worried that they are native ads.

I would prefer all native ads to be clearly identified as advertisements, but this somewhat defeats the purpose.  Some websites identify these pieces as “sponsored” or “advertisements” but it is not required.  A stamp of identification would make me more of a native advertising fan, but I don’t know if this will be come a uniform practice among all news sources.

I think the distinction between ads and news content is an important one:  I am definitely a skeptic when it comes to ads in general, and I find native ads to be sneaky.  No matter what I think, they seem to be here to stay.

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