Last week’s screw-up by The Atlantic over its Church of Scientology sponsored content turned lots of heads.
I think there are several reasons why this got above-average attention:
1. The Atlantic and its stable of publications is usually so good. We’re big fans. The Atlantic Cities is one of the best things on the web and the company’s recent launch of Quartz (qz.com) has done much to define what might be possible with a tablet-centric, non-ad dependent online publication.
2. It was to do with Scientology, which turns heads even more than your usual controversy (rightly or wrongly).
3. There is general confusion around native advertising.
That last point is most interesting to us. Native advertising and content marketing aren’t the same. Native ads can be part of a wider content marketing strategy but the two terms aren’t interchangeable.
But what’s perhaps most confusing is that people associate native advertising with services such as Facebook and Twitter. Think promoted (‘popular’) posts and tweets.
Yet increasingly native advertising also means publications placing high-level, paid-for (‘sponsored’, ‘native’, even still ‘advertorial’) content in the main flow of editorial. It is at least as important for media brands who see the risk inherent in depending on traditional display ads – in terms of their efficacy and so in terms of the revenue they bring.
Publications such as Buzzfeed, Forbes.com and the aforementioned Quartz are practically native-ad-first.
There will be many more growing pains but this is a transition media has to go through to survive, as so well described by Forbes.com editor-in-chief Lewis DVorkin.
If The Atlantic can screw up, anyone can. But that’s part of learning and moving on.
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