There’s a lot of debate these days around sponsored content and the more recent term of “native advertising.”
Many like to point out that sponsored content is nothing new. Advertorials have been around for a long time. But they seem to be taking on more importance as brands “become publishers,” while digital media and social platforms are seeking new ways of generating revenue.
So ahead of the panel discussion, here are my views on the top questions related to sponsored content:
What is sponsored content?
Sponsored content is content written or under-written by the sponsor that runs on a publisher’s domain. Sponsored content should add some value to the reader. It should line up to the expectations of the audience and be relevant to the main categories of content on the publisher site. Sponsored content should be clearly labeled as content coming from the sponsor and not the publisher’s editorial team.
Is sponsored content different from native advertising?
I see them as different things. Native advertising is not always content marketing. For example, a native advertisement embedded into my Facebook news feed is still an ad. A promoted tweet can be “just” an ad although I am sure each of these examples would show higher click through if the content was more like content marketing (something useful, entertaining or non-promotional.)
Why are these important for brands? For publishers? For readers?
I believe sponsored content is a great way for brands to partner with publishers to create content that is helpful to the readers. It forces brands to put the needs of the audience first. It allows publishers to think about new ways of creating a revenue stream to underwrite their own editorial without having to insert interrupting ads that no one wants and fewer and fewer readers are interacting with. To me, if sponsored content is done right, everybody wins. Although I’m not so sure if advertising agencies sees this as a good thing.
The 2 rules of sponsored content
- Create great content: Brands need to think and act like the editorial group inside publishers by producing engaging, interesting and quality content that helps the audience and leaves your own desire for self-promotion behind. When brands create great content that the audience wants, on any distribution platform, the brand will see an increase in reach, engagement and potentially conversion from the trust it builds. Remember, marketing is getting new customers to know, like and trust you enough to choose you over the competition. Great content is one of the best ways to do this. And sponsored content is one of the best ways to reach out to new audiences.
- Always provide full disclosure: Sponsored content must fully disclose that the content is not editorial and is being paid for by the advertiser. While the standards and rules of exactly how to do this are still being debated, every attempt should be made to fully disclose the publisher / brand relationship.
Is sponsored content an attack on journalistic integrity?
Finally, a few words to the voices out there decrying sponsored content as the death knell for journalistic integrity. Publishers have always accepted money from advertisers. And while the editorial and sales desks were kept separate to minimize even the perception of impropriety, journalist salaries have always been supported at least in part by ads.
Now that the world increasingly expects content to be free, and advertising click-through rates have fallen to point-zero-something percent, publishers need to find new ways to generate revenue in a way that doesn’t interrupt their readers. This will allow those same publishers to pay their staff writers.
When this is done with integrity (full disclosure) and good intention (great content), I believe journalistic integrity will be preserved.