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Native advertising: ‘Be very clear about the boundaries,’ says Editor-in-Chief of The Age

“Trying to slip something in by sleight of hand is a recipe for disaster,” Australia’s Andrew Holden, Editor-in-Chief of The Age warns publishers contemplating ‘native advertising’. Holden tells WAN-IFRA how his publication is working with this sometimes contentious form of advertising and offers advice to others who are considering it.

by Brian Veseling brian.veseling@wan-ifra.org | March 28, 2014

‘Native advertising’, or branded content, is content that helps an advertiser tell a story about their brand through traditional storytelling means such as text, images or video.

To readers, native advertising can appear similar to editorial content, which is why publishers often go to lengths to make it clear that the content is “sponsored” and was not created by their editorial staff.

While this form of advertising has been around for many years, it has become an important trend during the past year or two with many major publishers, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, launching new native advertising offerings.

WAN-IFRA: How often are native ads appearing in The Age or on your website?

Andrew Holden: Our native ads appear under the Brand Discover label. Articles are published across all masthead websites as well as spin-off sites (e.g. Good Food). Promotion of the articles is limited to specific spots across the network which are clearly labelled as “advertiser content.” We’re averaging 1-3 campaigns per month.

Did the Commonwealth Bank ad-stories also run in print? If so, how were they labelled there?

The Comm Bank campaign didn’t run in print. Zurich Insurance has been the only partner so far that has booked Brand Discover across print AND online. The label within the feature states the following: “Content for this feature produced for Zurich Life Insurance.”

What are the main concerns of the newsroom staff about these ads? How have those concerns been addressed?

Identification – that it is very clear to readers what is commercially driven content (the old advertorials), what has a commercial association, and what is pure editorial. If that labelling is clear then I don’t get any pushback from staff.

Based on your experience, what is your advice to other newsroom executives about dealing with native advertising?

Be very clear about the boundaries. Journalists understand a company’s commercial imperatives, but they also know that their own value is based on credibility – as soon as readers feel the journalism is compromised, then the journalist and the company lose that credibility. And be honest with staff: this is what we’re doing, this is why, this is the income it brings us. Trying to slip something in by sleight of hand is a recipe for disaster.

Holden will be speaking during the “Fresh strategies for turbulent times (part 2)” session of the World Advertising Forum, part of the World Newspaper Congress, which takes place at 11 a.m. on 10 June in Torino, Italy.