Content or Commercials? Retailers Not Yet Hostile to Natives

Even though marrying branded and editorial content is hardly a new concept, the battle over native advertising, which closely mimics surrounding editorial content, continues to cause agita in the ad world. Marketers and publishers are portraying native advertising as either a deal-with-the-devil dumpster dive or a seamless content bonus for readers.

The American Society of Magazine Editors recently weighed in on the issue by updating its guidelines for editors and publishers for the first time since 2011. It now suggests that magazines include the term “sponsored content” to make advertising more conspicuous, and encourages prominently posting a statement or “what’s this?” link above each post, in order to explain the origins of the article. Thus far, publishers that have posted sponsored posts have more or less set their own standards. Forbes, for example, runs posts from paying advertisers that mimic the look and feel of unsponsored content, but all feature a “BrandVoice” label above the marketer’s logo along with the text “Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience,” and it also puts a finer point on things by adding a “what is this?” link that takes readers to a more detailed explanation. Even these multiple measures are not enough for the ASME, which pooh poohs using fonts and graphics that resemble those used for editorial content, and suggests visual separation as well. They aren’t the only ones weighing in. The Federal Trade Commission, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and other bodies are also expected to convene on the issue, and it remains to be seen whether universal standards will be set and what the repercussions might be for any violations.

Examples of Forbes BrandVoice

Examples of Forbes BrandVoice

Retailers have a stake in this as well, of course. After all, they are also brand marketers and arguably have more to lose, particularly as they accelerate their content marketing efforts across multiple mediums. Irate subscribers who feel as though their trust has been violated are one thing, but attempting to avert a steamrolling consumer backlash is quite another. In a recent interview, Macy’s Group Vice President of Digital/New Media & Multicultural Marketing, Jennifer Kasper, shared Macy’s belief that consumers are sophisticated enough to know when they are being marketed to, and affirmed the retailer’s interest in exploring new native advertising opportunities. Kasper cited a recent Macy’s campaign produced in partnership with StyleHaul as one type of content model that will be part of its “arsenal” going forward. StyleHaul is one of many companies that have recently launched production houses, and its StyleHaul Studios will develop professionally-produced YouTube videos for marketers (the rash of start-ups, studios, agencies, and others that are pushing into custom content is a robust topic in and of itself).

For now, sponsored content is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for publishers as print profits plunge, and an option that marketers are all but demanding. eMarketer predicts that marketers will spend as much as $3.1 billion on sponsored content in 2017, up from a projected $1.9 billion this year.

Will retailers join the party or sit on the sidelines?