Native advertising: Deceptive gimmick, or viable marketing strategy?

native advertising is deceptive

According to Native Advertising Institute — which sounds like an oddly specific trade school, but in actuality is something else, presumably — the official definition of native advertising is as follows:

“Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.”

Their definition is suspiciously similar to content strategies used by inbound marketing firms, if you think about it. A lot of what we do here at AGENCY H involves selling a product or service by writing high-quality, unobtrusive blog articles and web pages in order to promote specific brands.

Yet some people view the practice of native advertising as deceptive and detestable, which could lead to an unfortunate misconception of inbound marketing for those who believe the practices are related. In which case, I thought I might write a short article to explain the differences between inbound marketing (or content marketing) and native advertising, and why many people have a negative impression of the practice of native advertising.

Inbound marketing and content marketing are not the same as native advertising

Content marketing can be loosely defined as a calculated marketing tactic (used in inbound marketing strategies) that involves creating and producing informative, relevant content for the purpose of attracting potential customers to a website. Content marketers create and publish media for the brand to own as a marketing asset.

Native advertising involves a media outlet creating and publishing content for a third party in order to promote that third party’s products or services. Typically, the third party pays the media outlet to create and produce the content, which is published in the same style as other publications by that media outlet.

Here’s an example of native advertising: If I own a popular health and fitness blog with a multi-million subscriber viewership, Vitaminwater can pay me a large sum of money to write an article about how healthy their product is. The idea is that these millions of people — people who trust me for my professional opinion — will see my article about Vitaminwater, and will develop a positive opinion for the product, without realizing that I have a biased incentive to make a consumable product look and sound beneficial to one’s health. For the record, Vitaminwater is bad for you. Do you see the problem now?

Wait, so… native advertising IS bad?

To answer this question, I’m going to serve up a heaping portion of oven-baked “yes” with a small side of “no” and cilantro rice.

On one hand, native advertising is non-interruptive, and is generally only accessed by the consumer at will, which may explain why native advertisements are more likely to be viewed longer and shared more than a banner ad. That’s a good thing. Inbound marketing was founded upon similar principles, and perhaps this similarity is another factor leading to the confusion between the two marketing tactics.

Unfortunately, many native advertisements — which absolutely are advertisements — are formatted in such a way that the consumer doesn’t realize that they are, in fact, advertisements, even when they’re marked as ads. Native advertisements can be purposefully deceptive, which is a big problem when advertorials are made to look like news stories in print media.

Native advertising brings the credibility and integrity of the media source into question, and consumers feel cheated after realizing they’ve wasted their time reading what they originally thought was genuine news. Giving corporations the keys to your once-respectable news vehicle allows them to steer your company — and your readers — in the wrong direction.

For the record, I do understand that I might have a slight, pro-inbound marketing bias since I work for an inbound marketing firm, but please note that I’m not trying to sell you anything here. I’m only trying to educate you with some helpful knowledge and a professional opinion.

But while we’re on the subject of helpful knowledge and professional opinions, you might want to check out the AGENCY H Inbound blog! We’ve got plenty to say about digital marketing, online advertising, social media, content strategies, and even the occasional tribute to hip-hop icon, Dr. Dre! Oh, did you forget about him? And be sure to contact us for all your inbound marketing questions and needs!