Is This an Ad?

That’s the question most people will start asking themselves before reading or clicking on something online (if they have not already). The convergence of content and advertising is nothing new, of course. But in the last few years, and even the last few months, the two are accelerating toward each other at an alarming speed.

Three things to think about, whether you’re a marketer or not:

1. Advertisers want their ads to look like content.

That is what’s behind the content marketing movement. Advertisers want to get into the business of content production and distribution, because we know that users are wary of ads. They trust content producers. So if we can produce content that interests them, we might sucker lure entice them.

Like the advertorials and infomercials of yesteryear, ads disguised as content are meant to attract people to your brand without direct advertising. And the internet (and social media) has made this even more attractive and effective for companies.

2. Content producers are increasingly borrowing techniques from advertisers.

Traditional content producers and distributors - newspapers, magazines, television, radio – and new age content producers – blogs, websites, online media companies – are all fighting for attention. They want readers, viewers, subscribers. Just like advertisers, they are fighting for the attention of consumers. And so many of them have started to borrow such things as headline writing and placement from the advertising world.

Take Upworthy for example, a site that figured out that writing a headline that got as many clicks as possible was the best strategy for attracting ad dollars (making money).

3. Users, already wary of advertisers, will start to grow wary of content producers.

It just makes sense that more consumers are becoming hesitant to do anything we want them to do. They don’t trust advertising, and they see content and advertising coming together.

What constitutes an ad? It can’t be the fact that it’s paid for, because companies pay to place content now too. It can’t be that it’s designed to create a sale, because companies use content for that too now.

In my opinion, the proper definition of an ad is very hard to arrive at in today’s world. And it’s only getting more difficult as the convergence of advertising and content continues.

The next time you see something online (anything), ask yourself, is that an ad?