Here’s bad news for anyone who values the separation of advertising and editorial content.

“Native advertising is going to be the only advertising. The question is only what people are going to put in those units.”

Thus spake BuzzFeed’s Jon Steinberg at a recent panel on social Internet advertising.

Of course, BuzzFeed – a website that’s unabashedly dedicated to making its content (such as 23 Kitties of Congress) go viral – has a vested interest in promoting ads in sheep’s clothing, since its entire revenue model is built on them. In fact, the website has introduced tutorials to help marketers create native advertising.

From Advertising Age:

 

BuzzFeed Starts Program to Train Agencies in the BuzzFeed Way

Agencies That Take Part Will Receive ‘Accreditation’ From BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is starting an effort to train agencies in BuzzFeed-style storytelling — all the better to support its bottom line with sponsored posts, also known as “native advertising.”

Its Social Storytelling Creator Program, inspired by agency cultivation efforts at Facebook and Google, is meant to seed the market with agencies and people that will do great work in the social storytelling space, according to Jon Steinberg, president and COO at BuzzFeed, who previously helped develop small business partnerships at Google. “We want more people doing it in a high quality way,” he said.

 

Also known as “The BuzzFeed Way.”  And once marketers have adopted it, BuzzFeed will certify them with “accreditation . . .  including a badge [see above] they can slap on their website and supporting materials.”

That’s par for the course in the online world. The problem is, the BuzzFeed virus has started to spread to the mainstream media as well. Hearst Magazines is about to conscript its editorial staff to create native ad content such as “15 Things You Didn’t Know About 15 Captains, Commanders And Conquerors” (sponsored by Captain Morgan) across all of its digital platforms “including video, mobile, websites, and even social networks” according to FishbowlNY.

And Bloomberg News reports that the New York Times just brought in BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti to talk about creating “successful native ads.” It’s one part of a push toward generating new sources of revenue: “What we’re looking at is ways you can use journalistic storytelling techniques in how you could present a narrative for our clients without misleading or confusing the reader,” a Times executive told Bloomberg.

 

Already, the New York Times is getting more aggressive with how it uses its home page — a site that draws about 35 million visitors a month, according to ComScore Inc. (SCOR) A recent ad for carmaker Jaguar overlaid the entire website with a mock news article announcing the arrival of its latest sports car: “Jaguar Unleashes New Cat,” the headline read.

The text of the Jaguar story was obscured, distinguishing it from a regular article, and it disappeared after readers pushed the “close” button. An ad for the cereal Grape Nuts used a similar faux-newspaper approach on the Times home page this week.

 

No chance for confusion there, eh?

But there’s not much hope of stopping this freight train because demand is clear: A new survey of online advertising and marketing executives reports that “about two thirds of brands (66%) and agencies (65%) say that branded content marketing has become very important or most important to their marketing mix.”

That does not bode well for the future of the mainstream media, which is more and more willing to go around the Maypole with stealth advertisers.

And yet . . . there’s this (via MediaPost):

 

Google Warns Brands To Be Up-Front About Native Ads

Ask marketers to describe the beauty of native advertisements, and most will tell you they work well because they don’t look like ads. Just don’t tell that to a Google employee. The company’s spam expert Matt Cutts took to YouTube warning brand marketers and agencies they must make it clear to consumers that the native ad content they are reading is an advertisement.

 

And here he is doing just that:

 

 

It’s one small step etc. etc.

 


John R. Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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