I Spy a Native Ad

As tech and consumer engagement with content evolves, brands are turning to native advertisements to push their products. These articles, info-graphics, videos (etc.) are designed to blend in to publication editorial styles and tone. The advertisements also provide the type of information expected by the target audience. When done correctly, native ads are consumed without the reader even realizing that they are being pitched.

Check out this example which appeared in the New York Times.

At first glance, the article seems legit. “Milking the System: How Big Dairy May Be Influencing School Lunches” certainly captures the tenor of content produced by this publication. Add to this, the article is an impressive multimedia package. The layout is easy to digest, the sub-headings and pertinent text stands out, there are wonderful automated information graphs and striking still images.

So what’s the fuss? The article is actually an advertisement for Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, an HBO series.

Gone are the days of bulky banner ads and randomly placed promotions. These clumsy attempts to engage consumers are being replaced by perfectly manicured and strategically placed spots disguised as organic content.

The strategy is working. Across the board, consumers are engaging with native advertisement significantly more than previous advertising efforts. But, is this a good thing? For the brand – absolutely. For the consumer – eh. Native ads have the capacity to erode consumer trust. It also calls into question the objectivity of the reporting/promoting because once a platform is paid to place content that by definition blurs the line between advertising and real content, the legitimacy of every other thing can be questioned.


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