Opinion: Bob Garfield's native negativity is naive

Neil Ackland
By Neil Ackland | 26 February 2014
Junkee Media boss Neil Ackland

In a Guardian article titled “If native advertising is so harmless, why does it rely on misleading readers?” respected advertising writer and commentator Bob Garfield has taken a swing at native advertising. He thinks it will destroy the media industry and that publishers rushing headlong into Native are dropping their pants for pocket change.

Garfield’s vitriol seems to be targeted largely at old world newspaper mastheads trying to fix broken business models. He names publishers The Economist, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Time Inc. and The New York Times among others.

Being a journalist who writes for the web, he chose an intentionally controversial headline and then used a sensationalist 'good vs evil' metaphor to deliver his argument, which centres on the belief that native is fundamentally and intentionally deceptive. This is just not the case. All of the publishers Garfield name-checked in his article clearly label native content as being brand funded or sponsored.

He then goes onto say “If brands are so confident about the quality of their 'content,' why don't they proudly slap their name on it instead of camouflaging it to look like third-party mediated editorial?"

This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what brands are trying to achieve with native advertising. Why would a brand buy native ads if they couldn’t generate any brand awareness or consideration from it? The reality is that brands do “proudly slap their name on it” That’s the point.

It’s true that native ads are designed to be delivered ‘in-stream’ and to work within the current flow of the sites content and not interrupt like banners. Comparisons have been made to magazine ads for this reason, although native and magazine Ads are very different. But the magazine metaphor is an interesting one. If you asked a Vogue reader if they would like the magazine with the ads or without, you can bet 99% would choose the one with the ads. That’s because the ads are part of the content and they add value to the readers experience. Native advertising done well should and can deliver the same outcome.

But the major difference between magazines and native is that native content is designed to be shared via social media. It’s not quite as easy to cut out a magazine ad, photocopy it 300 times it and then post it to your friends.

Arguments over deception, definition, labelling and ethics will rage on. But native is not going away.

At Sound Alliance, we are a digital born publisher attempting to reinvent the media model for a new generation of digital-first consumers. We launched our native product eleven months ago and it now accounts for 17% of our ad revenues which is hardly ‘pocket change’. We expect that number to rise rapidly. We’ve successfully delivered over 90 pieces of native content for over 20 brands, including Telstra, Crust Pizza, Officeworks, Stoli and many more. Every native story is clearly signposted as being ‘Brought to you by’ a brand. And we have not received a single reader complaint.

At it’s core, the success of native content lives and dies on the ability of the content to attract an audience. The internet with all its distractions and infinite content options is the great leveler. The cream rises to the top and sometimes that cream is telling a brand story. Ultimately the consumer very rarely cares if it is brand funded. All they care about is being entertained and informed.

If a brand facilitates the delivery of information and entertainment that a reader values, it’s clearly marked as being from a brand, and heaven forbid, a publisher should profit from that exchange, what is wrong with that?

Neil Ackland
Sound Alliance


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