This native advertising thing is starting to overrun the journalism village.

The hardtracking staff has chronicled both the self-proclaimed fastidious (see the New York Times) and the self-acclaimed prodigious (see Time Inc.) in the scramble to create ads in sheep’s clothing.

But magazine publisher Condé Nast is outdoing them all with its new program, 23 Stories by Condé Nast. From Steven Perlberg’s Wall Street Journal piece:

Write Ads? Condé Nast Staff Is Wary

Condé Nast caused a stir in the media world Monday when it announced plans for a new studio that will allow marketers to work directly with editors at its magazines to create “branded content,” ads designed to blend in with regular articles.

The burning question for media industry observers: Will every one of the company’s magazines have to participate, including those more focused on news, like the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired and GQ?

News organizations generally believe in a wall between editorial operations and the business side of a publication.

Unfortunately, these days believing isn’t seeing.

“The new program, 23 Stories by Condé Nast, would seemingly break down that boundary, potentially distorting just what is fact and what is marketing.”

Despite some staffers believing there is “wiggle room . . . for certain titles to decide they don’t want to have editors involved in producing content for advertisers,” the company says “no magazine title is exempt from the new program, which will launch next month.”

Pity the poor New Yorker magazine, which not only has been forced to move into the new rat-infested Condé Nast headquarters at One World Trade Center, but must now navigate the rat-infested world of stealth marketing.

No one is arguing about the ascendence of native advertising as a source of revenue for media outlets. It’s the how that creates the sticking points.


Even at Condé Nast, there isn’t expected to be resistance to the general notion of running sponsored content in some form. Indeed, the company already allows native ads written by outside contractors. The major sticking point is to what degree journalists will have to participate in creating that content. Some experts say there are real risks for news-oriented outlets that venture into this territory.

The unsticking point?

The inclusion of Condé Nast’s editorial staff is “the thing that really sets their branded-content offering apart,” said Amy Stettler, general manager of global media and agency management at Microsoft Corp., a Condé Nast advertiser that is still weighing whether to sign on to “23 Stories.”

Say a prayer for the Condé Nasters. This is gonna get nasty.


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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