Has Going Native Gone Too Far?












In the good old days of publishing, I was a rookie copywriter cranking out advertorials for Ziff Davis’ special interest magazines. Advertorials were a crazy mix of storytelling, advertising and editorials.

Publishers liked advertorials because they provided content and brought in advertising dollars. Readers enjoyed the personal content, and advertisers welcomed the change from conventional, me-too ads to relatable information.

One advertorial I wrote for Flying magazine was about a teen pilot, who was too young for a driver’s license, but old enough to barnstorm the country in his private Cessna (accompanied by a co-pilot, of course). The advertorial brought in lots of white mail and probably was the reason I decided to take flying lessons years later. But there was no question that this was an ad. It was advertising. And if that wasn’t clear enough, the word ADVERTORIAL was positioned prominently at the header of every magazine page featuring this ad form.

Fast forward to the digital era. Today, traditional newspapers and magazines are fighting to stay alive.  Their revenue is shrinking because ad dollars buy so much more in the digital arena.  And since advertisers are getting more value and eyeballs for their money, digital makes sense on every level.

So what’s the problem? A growing number of people are concerned about the lack of separation between editorial (church) and advertising (state). This BFF alliance is apparent in native advertising as well as social media. As a result, it’s hard to know what’s fact, what isn’t.

The question is—have things gotten too cozy between business and advertisers? Will regulators decide to do something about ads masquerading as editorial? Will readers become so overexposed and distrustful of content that they turn it off completely?

According to the OPA (Online Publishers Association), using Best Practices help everyone. For starters, they believe native advertising should provide real value to the reader—as much value as “pure” content.  And second, that native advertising should be fully transparent to distinguish ads from editorial.

In truth, the best digital pubs already do this. But my guess is that they are in the minority.

In the social media arena, guru Gary Vaynerchuk uses his formula “jab, jab, jab, right hook” to sell products for his clients. His “jabs” represent giving something of value to his followers. This could be a joke, story, an introduction or even a meal. He then follows up with a “right hook”—a request to buy something. Using this technique, he’s helped many big-name clients build a notable marketing presence in social. Vaynerchuk himself says, this process “guilts people into buying stuff.”

In a recent Facebook campaign for Nilla Wafer cookies, he used “Momisms,” cute quips of interest to his audience. After rolling out with the most popular quips including, “The best families are like fudge, mostly sweet with lots of nuts” the Nilla Wafers Facebook page skyrocketed from 15,000 to 356,000 likes—and sales went up 9%! But as Veynerchuk readily admits, marketers are their own worst enemy. They take methods that work, and then beat consumers over the head with them until these methods stop working because consumers gradually tune them out.

Do you think editorial and advertising are too close? Have native advertising and social media ads reached a tipping point?


3 Responses to “Has Going Native Gone Too Far?”

  1. This is a great piece Ruth. With the crazy growth of social media, it’s tough to separate editorial from advertising, especially today. Thanks for the insight.


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