Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Content Marketing, Sponsored Content and Native Advertising

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If you think that the wall, which separates the news from opinion in broadcast and print media, has been crumbling in the past decade or more, then sponsored content or native advertising is definitely not your cup of tea. HBO’s John Oliver in a “Last Week Tonight” segment dating back to August 3, 2014 had eviscerated this burgeoning concept taking hold in the broader publishing industry.  In fact, one has to be very careful using traditional monikers of publishing, advertising and distribution in this evolving scenario, as these roles have become increasingly intertwined in the digital world and there is a certain amount of confusion pervading the entire industry with respect to who’s the buyer, seller and consumer in these roles.

So The Marketing Id was surprised to read a more recent New York Times article datelined July 24, 2016, “How Sponsored Content Is Becoming King in a Facebook World,” defending the concept, primarily because of a rapidly changing business landscape:

“Younger companies like Vice and BuzzFeed have built whole businesses around the concept. The Atlantic expects three-quarters of its digital ad revenue to come from sponsored content this year. Slate, the web publisher, says that about half of its ad revenue comes from native ads, as sponsored content is also called, and the other half from traditional banner or display ads. Many major newspapers, including The New York Times, have declared sponsored content to be an important part of their strategies.”

Social media platforms, such as FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter have been struggling with very low click through rates on display advertising. Also, news websites have been losing subscribers to social media companies as well as aggregators. And, all of them are being hurt by ad blocking software. So there is a redefining-cum-cannibalization of who plays what role in this evolving digital media world. Chad Pollitt, VP of Audience and Co-founder of Relevance, has done a pretty comprehensive job in sorting out this content conundrum in his article, “Everything You Need To Know About Sponsored Content.

Now, The Marketing Id began this post referencing “sponsored content or native advertising” as interchangeable terms. Before I get into the analogy or distinction between those two terms, we have Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, taking serious issue in calling native advertising as a form of content marketing! Mr. Pulizzi defines content marketing as follows:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action by changing or enhancing consumer behavior.”

Mr. Pulizzi goes on to add, “In content marketing, the brand owns the media. It’s an asset.”

Then Mr. Pulizzi defines native advertising in the following manner:

“For most situations, longer-form native advertising (I’m not talking about Google or Twitter ads) is:

  • A directly paid opportunity – Native advertising is “pay to play.” Brands pay for the placement of content on platforms outside of their own media.
  • Usually information based – The content is useful, interesting, and highly targeted to a specific audience. In all likelihood, it’s not a traditional advertisement directly promoting the company’s product or service.”

Mr. Pulizzi goes on to add that native advertising is, “Delivered in stream. The user experience is not disrupted with native advertising because it is delivered in a way that does not impede the user’s normal behavior in that particular channel.”

Mr. Pulizzi concludes, if content “is valuable and relevant, designed to attract a clearly defined audience, and posted on your own or other unpaid platform, it’s content marketing.”

But then just as you think the confusion regarding content marketing, sponsored content and native advertising has been cleared up, along comes Shannon Porter, Project Marketing Manager at Professional Case Management, who begs to differ. In her blog post, “What Is the Difference Between Sponsored Content and Native Advertising?” Ms. Porter describes native advertising as follows:

“Native advertising is promotional in nature (hence the name “advertising”) and its goal is to convince rather than inform an audience. While it can still look like an article, there will be a distinct call-to-action or it will contain brand-biased content that contains the company’s name.”

And, then Ms. Porter points out that:

“Sponsored content on the other hand is not brand-biased and its goal is to inform the audience, not convince them. The strategy is to position a company as an expert in their industry, with the hopes that if the audience goes to the company for advice they will eventually purchase their products or services.”

The Marketing Id agrees with Mr. Pulizzi’s semantics on the distinction between content marketing and sponsored content/native advertising. However, semantics aside, The Marketing Id also believes that Ms. Porter makes a fair distinction between sponsored content and native advertising, especially in the long sales cycle world of B2B, where sponsored content can be a useful channel to nurture a prospect along the path to eventually becoming a customer.

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About Jack Nargundkar

High-tech marketing is always a constant compromise between logical left-brain analytics and creative right-brain activities. Jack has been living this struggle his entire working career, which he began as a software geek after graduating with a BSEE degree from Bombay University. To hone his marketing skills, Jack went on to pursue an MBA degree from Columbia Business School in New York City. Jack has since gained wide-ranging marketing experience from working at start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in the global IT, Defense & Space, and Telecommunications industries. In the past few years, Jack has focused on developing integrated marketing strategies and plans that incorporate a judicious mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques. In addition to being a self-published author, Jack has been recognized for outstanding analytical and communications skills, authoring technical articles (self and ghosted) in numerous trade publications and editorial opinions in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
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