As the hardtracking staff previously noted, the New York Times has been preparing to jump into the native advertising pool along with the rest of the sink-or-swim set. According to Advertising Age, the recently installed Times executive VP of advertising, Meredith Kopit Levien, gave a speech last month in which she laid out the future of the paper as a marketing platform.

 

“Native is a table stakes for every marketer and every publisher,” she told an audience at Sharethrough‘s Native Advertising Summit in Chicago. Banner ads, she added, are a “huge and important business” at the Times, but they will become more automated and standardized over time. Many publishers hope native ads will help counter the downward pressure on ad rates that’s created by those trends.

 

Yesterday the Times Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, weighed in on her blog and on Twitter.

The tweet:

 

 

The post, from the Public Editor’s Journal:

 

Pledging Clarity, The Times Plunges Into Native Advertising

After months of preparation and scrutiny, “native advertising” is about to arrive at The Times. That practice, much discussed in media circles, has been the subject of a recent Federal Trade Commission public workshop under the appropriate name, “Blurred Lines.”

The idea behind native advertising, according to some practitioners, at least, is to appeal to readers (or “users” of digital media) by making advertising look and seem as much like editorial content as possible.

That confusion, however, is what The Times intends to avoid through labeling, design differences and disclaimers that will make it clear just what you’re looking at. The publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., told Times staff members in an email Thursday morning, “We will ensure that there is never a doubt in anyone’s mind about what is Times journalism and what is advertising.”

 

Uh-huh.

What follows is a smart assessment of the potential effects of native advertising on Times content. The “delicate balance” Sullivan refers to is the promise by Times chief executive Mark Thompson that “[t]his will be the most conservative deployment [of native advertising] that you’ll see . . . It is one that will still be effective for advertisers.”

That’s the $20 million question, as Sullivan puts it.

 

Can The Times really do both? Can it be conservative in its approach – heavy on the labeling and disclaimers, careful never to confuse – and still draw advertisers? Or will that very clarity defeat the purpose of a form that has bafflement at its very heart?

“Good native advertising is not about intentional trickery,” Mr. Thompson said.

 

Actually, it is. Not to get technical about it.


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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