Respect Your Readers – Best Practices in Labeling Your Native Ads

Native advertising is both exciting and a slippery slope for publishers. Increasingly there has been discussions on how this will impact the trust contract a publisher has built with its reader, if native advertising – such as article, video, slideshow, microsite – is introduced into the editorial mix, blurring the line between church and state.

Though the debate is raging, as a publisher – as well as an advertiser – one must always respect the readers. They must be informed if they are indeed looking at a piece of advertisement, and not organic content. The most basic thing you can do is to ensure your piece of native advertising is clearly labeled.

In an ideal world, where everyone plays by the rule, labels such as “Sponsored Content” or “Advertorial” are presented in a clear, obvious way to ensure the reader know the kind of content they’re reading. It’s easy to be vague about this and hence “tricked” the readers into believing that the piece of ad they’re looking at is part of the natural mix of content they usually consume.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples, shall we? Consider the following:


All that was shown on this Facebook ad unit is a tiny, grey text “Sponsored” at the lower left corner, which might be easy to overlook. Those in the know will immediately identify this as an ad unit, but most people are not. It’s the responsibility for the publisher – in this case, Facebook – to be clearer with such labels.

Now consider this:


Forbes, probably the most outspoken advocate of native advertising, took such labeling in a very different, if still indirect way. Instead of plain, direct label, they opted for a phrase of marketing speak: “connecting marketers to the Forbes audience”. Now put yourself in the shoes of an average reader. Would they know what a marketer is? What’s “BrandVoice”? Would they think of themselves as Forbes… audience, reader, user, member? The effectiveness of this label is clearly debatable. Granted, Forbes has included a “What is this” link which leads to a page explaining the native advertising program. That goes in some way to inform the reader, but only if the reader knows where and what to look for.

Finally, consider this:


The native ad unit on New Yorker is probably one of best examples. I could quote on clear labeling on a piece of advertisement. Here’s how they do it:

  • The word “advertisement” appears in the URL. In this case, like this –
  • The label “Sponsor Content” is up front, right at the top and in a different color from the site color palette, with a supporting link “What’s This” for more explanation.
  • The masthead is an advertiser-branded image (in this case, IBM), with the slightly marketing-speak word, “Presented By”.

Even for the average reader it’s easy for them to realize this is a piece of advertisement. Though the placement of such a topic (cloud computing) on a site like New Yorker raises a few eyebrows, the practice itself was worthy of mention.

So what is the right way to label your native ad? Unfortunately, no one can answer that for you. Though various advertising regulation bodies are now attempting to define native advertising and its associated metrics, it’s up to you, the publisher/advertisers, to decide in what way you want to respect or violate, the trust you have with your readers.

The first thing you can do is simple – label your (native ad). Clearly. In no vague terms. Your readers will respect you for that.

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