September 16, 2013
When Joe McCambley helped build the first banner ad in 1994, it was a much-maligned innovation that grew until it defined the look and economics of the Internet for years to come. As The New York Times reports, the latest rage is native advertising, also known as sponsored or branded content, which mimics the storytelling aesthetic of the host website. Forbes, The Atlantic and The New Yorker have all developed their own versions.
Many publishers are allowing PR firms and advertising agencies to publish directly to their sites, and “I think that is a huge mistake,” McCambley said. Such content can gain more attention and engagement than a banner ad can, and it’s usually labeled as advertising. In McCambley’s view sponsored content when properly executed can provide value to both readers and advertisers, but he worries that it’s damaging the contract between consumers and media organizations.
“It is a very slippery slope and could kill journalism if publishers aren’t careful,” he said. The confusion the ads create often diminishes the host publication’s credibility, the Times reports.
Lewis Dvorkin, chief product officer of Forbes, said “We have very high standards and we spend a lot of time vetting our contributors and making sure that our marketers … understand the importance of coming up with accurate, useful information.” But as McCambley said, “How do I know who made the content I am looking at and what the value of the information is?” — Greg Beaubien