On native ads
Promoted/sponsored/voice content (hereafter “native”) is undoubtedly a nominal “ad.” The more interesting debate is whether or not the native genre links its counterparties together, with the host publication implicitly endorsing the paying advertiser. In other words, while native ads occupy a host’s real estate, how much do they leverage his brand’s currency to influence his audience?
Today, display ads in a newspaper or banners on a webpage are ornamental. In contrast, native feels integrated to us... but, then again, the same could have been said about banner ads years ago. In fact, the same was said about banners years ago: they felt integrated into the webpage; they targeted our interests; they hoped we’d accidentally click them or mistake them for native content.
So, in the future, will consumers continue to infer an existence of some link between native ads’ hosts and advertisers? or will our increasing familiarity with the native genre weaken the perceived association?
Per the precedent of banner ads, my guess is that we’ll always subconsciously infer some bilateral endorsement inherent in native ads, but we’ll grow to perceive far less conviction in most hosts’ implicit endorsements of their advertisers.
The host’s endorsement of native ads is inextricable. After all, if Vox hypothetically exercises the discretion to not post sponsored content paid for by big tobacco, then Vox has an ad curation standard. Therefore, by allowing certain sponsored content, Vox is not un-endorsing its permitted sponsors. Logically, the host’s provision for any native ad is, at very least, anti-opposition to the sponsor. That’s exactly how we characterize the relationship status between counterparties of modern-day programmatic display ads: while blogger X hasn’t chosen to block advertiser Y, X also isn’t posting a 5-star rave review for Y.
Such anti-opposition is the bare minimum, beyond which are infinite shades of gray. There are flavors of sponsored content that more explicitly endorse advertisers. For example, outfits like Vice are commissioned via an agency model to produce sponsored content. We can argue whether Vice seeks ideologically-aligned sponsors or vice versa, but regardless, Vice’s brand relies on both its ideology and the quality of its output. Of course, the concern is that money talks: what if Vice were to accept an overwhelming commission from a sponsor it doesn’t ideologically support? Would the production of content it doesn’t endorse for a sponsor it doesn’t support compromise the efficacy of Vice’s product? That would definitely distrurb the ideological reputation its brand has established; the quality of output is something for consumers to deduce.
As with any politician, pundit, or vested interest, the consumer deserves full & fair disclosure, with which he has to make his own deductions. Vice happens to do a good job of declaring its sponsors; politicians, pundits, and vested interests don’t even try.
The good news is that such disclosure is now compulsory after the recent ruling by the FTC (“Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Ads”)…