The line between what is real, objective online content and what is made up to promote a company is becoming blurry. The examples that are the most difficult to distinguish are so-called sponsored content (also called native advertising), where a website intentionally publishes content that presents an advertising partner in a favorable light. What makes this a controversial issue is not that the content has been paid for by the advertiser but that website visitors may not be able to easily identify who is responsible for the content.
The Federal Trade Commission is taking a dim view of native advertising. As discussed in this New York Times story, the issue is not so much with this advertising form but with the methods that are used to present the content. Specifically, the FTC is concerned with whether the sponsor of the content (i.e., the advertiser) is clearly being identified. For instance, the story discusses one popular technology website where authors of the site’s regular content also write some of the sponsored content and whether this may lead some visitors to believe it is part of the website’s editorially scrutinized material.
Yet this issue is not all one sided. In this story, websites offer their take on this practice, and for some, their views may seem quite reasonable. Whether you believe native advertising is a good or bad practice, the arguments put forth by both sides makes for a good read.
Image by Stilgherrian