As stealth marketing – a.k.a. native advertising, branded content, sponsored posts, brand journalism, blah blah blah – has wormed its way into both online publications and mainstream media outlets (it’s all here, if you want to get technical about it), publishers keep saying they’re committed to maintaining editorial integrity and a bright line between advertising and editorial content.

Well they can drop the veil, as Philip Marlowe said in The Big Sleep.

From Adweek:

The Washington Post’s Native Ads Get Editorial Treatment

Borrowing from newsroom

Even as native ads naysayers argue for clear labeling and design cues so readers don’t confuse them with actual journalism, publishers and advertisers have pushed to make the units look more like editorial.

The latest example comes from The Washington Post. Its native ad program, WP BrandConnect, is adopting the multimedia, longform template that’s been used in the newsroom for features like this one.

Kevin Gentzel, the Post’s chief revenue officer, explained that the quality bar is being raised on native advertising. Brands are creating high-quality video, research and articles, often tailored to a specific publishers’ audience, and they’re looking to publishers to improve the reader appeal.

“We want our BrandConnect partners to be able to take advantage of the gifts that the Internet brings—all of these tools that help the storytelling journey,” Gentzel said. “And they will also be clearly labeled. Labeling and transparency is key to trust.”


That must be why “[t]he Post’s sponsored content division advised PhRMA [the trade group for the pharmaceutical industry] in creating . . .  articles [that] will launch March 3.”

As in, yesterday. (See the articles here.)

But that’s not even the worst of it.

Apparently, the BrandConnect tweaks are just the beginning of what could be a cozier relationship between news and advertising. The Post is offering advertisers the ability to take advantage of its Truth Teller video project, which originally was used to fact-check politicians’ speeches and has since been expanded to trailers of movies based on true stories, like The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years a Slave.

And there’s more to come.

This isn’t the first time the sales side has peeked over the proverbial Chinese wall to get inspiration from the editorial side. The New York Times has done it via its Idea Lab. The Post has an Ad Innovations team that sits in the marketing group but looks for inspiration in the newsroom.

The corn is off the cob, my friends. It’s all over but the pouting.


John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
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