Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 12

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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Chatbots.

This week’s topic: Native Advertising

Native advertising comes in a variety of different forms – sponsored posts, paid articles, advertorials – but they all mean essentially the same thing. They are content that brands pay to place in places that readers are likely to engage with them.

For example, a company like Blue Apron might sponsor articles on websites dedicated to cooking or healthy eating. In exchange for payment, they might get to include details about the company or its offers, links back to their signup page, and more. Sometimes, they might even get full editorial control over the entire article.

Depending on where these kinds of articles are published, they might take a number of different forms. On some sites, they might look just like any other article. On others, they might get a different look and feel to signal to readers that this content was paid for.

Ethically, the issue is more on the publisher’s side than the advertiser’s. But at the end of the day, they both have some responsibility when it comes to user experience.

The question is this – as a reader, how important is it that I know this content was paid for, and by who? In the Blue Apron example, it might not seem to matter much. But what if it was an article on why people should use a specific credit card, and the bank that offers that card were the ones paying to have it published. You would think the reader is entitled to know that fact, otherwise they might think it an impartial piece of advice.

Native advertising certainly has a place in the larger marketing environment. But the key is that, as brands and publishers, we must be more transparent with our audience. If they don’t know that what they’re reading is content that only exists because someone paid for it, something is wrong.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.