When Raymond Snoddy OBE says native advertising is here to stay, you can pretty well accept that native advertising is here to stay.
Mr Snoddy has had a long and distinguished career in journalism; most of it at the Times and Sunday Times end rather than the ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ extreme. He has written several books on ethical issues in journalism and publishing and, following the pasting that the BBC received after the Hutton Inquiry into the Iraq war, he was the figurehead behind the Newswatch programme which continues to probe the tackier goings on in the news and media industries.
In other words, Raymond Snoddy is someone who cares about journalism and has been a champion for the independence of editors in holding out against the possible pressures brought by powerful advertisers.
In a recent article in Newsline though, entitled ’Why we can’t afford to screw up native advertising’, he makes the point well that times are changing and that there is no place for the old ‘independence’ zealotry, especially when it doesn’t even exist in the online news media who are taking up an increasing amount of overall readership.
What interests him more is the outcome of a recent symposium in the US where a leading native advertising company brought together publishers and advertisers to try and create some ground rules and set parameters for what is and what isn’t acceptable ‘nativity’.
The debate covered the usual ground; at what point does sponsored content become so covert that it breaks ethical boundaries in transparency? On the other side; when does the responsibility to signpost and be ‘up-front’ about content sponsorship become so intrusive that the advertiser may as well just advertise?
However, the concern that came out of the talks, and the agreement, was centred on the maximum proportion of any offer that should be native content. All appeared to agree that it should be less than 50% with some erring towards 5%.
Which brings us right back the heart of native; if the content is genuinely relevant, informative and entertaining, does the percentage matter?
However, Raymond Snoddy raises another question, turning the debate on its head.
“The basic rules make sense but where does native fit with muck-raking, awkward, scurrilous, investigative journalism? Native surely won’t want to be associated with highly controversial stories.” He suggests in his Newsline piece.
The advertisers must have loved that one; to have such an icon dress them with the halo of professional standards rather than the usual devilish horns of cynical exploitation!
Just one question though, Mr Snoddy. The ‘muck-raking, awkward, scurrilous investigative journalism’ to which you refer, presumably only exists because there are consumers out there who want to consume it. The native advertising task is to provide content that is equally attractive and entertaining for them even if some would also apply those adjectives to the sponsored content.
Native’s power is in its ability to understand, empathise and speak to its target markets whoever they are and whatever they choose to read. Native advertising is built on respecting its audience, not sitting in judgement on their taste.