Does sponsored content have a labeling problem?, asked Digiday’s Josh Sternberg yesterday. No Josh, it simply has a quality problem.
Content marketing in general and perhaps particularly native advertising, a sub-set of content marketing that is being used increasingly by traditional online publishers as well as Facebook and Twitter, is getting some stick for supposedly trying to trick or hoodwink audiences.
That’s the criticism levelled by some. (Get ready for the native ads backlash.) Sternberg’s piece does a good job of showing that rarely does a piece of content not carry clear labelling so that any reader or viewer knows its (still) unconventional source. Hell, the Atlantic has even gone all OTT by posting a document showing its advertising guidelines (PDF).
But that’s not the issue.
In our experience audiences are getting used to finding content everywhere – we think the day social networks meant our friends and contacts became effective content creators and distributors changed that equation – and they are increasingly only concerned with whether it is good enough.
Whether it lives in a main news and features column/river or off in an old MPU display unit to one side isn’t a big deal. And by the way, we will see increasingly good content, rather than copy, inside ad units.
No, what readers get upset about is when their quality and subject-matter expectations aren’t fulfilled. That happens all too regularly with some ‘sponsored content’.
The funny thing is that it is more likely to happen when a publisher doesn’t collaborate enough with a brand. That kind of uber church and state philosophy actually makes things worse. The guys at Buzzfeed know a thing or two, it turns out, as one of their teams works with clients such as GE, Microsoft and Virgin Mobile.
But also remember a publication’s own editorial team can be found wanting in terms of quality and not delivering on subject matter expectations.
What’s it going to take to change attitudes – sponsored content that outshines a publication’s own editorial?
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