Native Advertising: 3 Horror Stories



As print sales continue to decline, media companies have tried to squeeze more revenue out of their digital presences. One key tactic in this effort has been native advertising. Native ads are articles that are sponsored by a third-party advertiser. Generally, they look like editorial content but with a big “SPONSORED CONTENT” tag or even different coloration from the sites’ other content. So far, native ads have been very successful for websites, and advertisers. However, they have not been without controversy as many visitors to sites using native ads claim they can’t tell the difference between native and editorial content and some have claimed that advertisers have insisted that all coverage of their brand in a publication running native ads is favorable. As native ad revenue continues to grow, many native campaigns have failed, in some cases miserably.


3 native ads that went horribly, horribly awry.


The Atlantic- Church of Scientology

In 2013, The Atlantic published a piece of sponsored content from the Church of Scientology. Readers of the publication objected as they felt the sponsored content crossed a journalistic line. After these readers took to social media to voice their discontent, the Atlantic pulled the ad, and updated their standards for native advertising.



The Economist/Buzzfeed

The Economist is a respected news publication that focuses on geo-political and economic issues. For a publication with such high-minded content, many readers were taken aback when the Economist sponsored a piece of content on Buzzfeed, “9 Things You Didn’t Know About The Year’s Biggest Stories.” To many, a collaboration between The Economist and Buzzfeed would be a little bit like the Smithsonian choosing to run programming on MTV. Readers of each site found them strange bedfellows.


Shape Magazine

Is it possible to sponsor content on your own publication? Yes. Is it possible to do that extremely poorly? Also, yes. Shape magazine released a product called “Water Boosters.” To coincide with the release, Shape also ran an article about the benefits of drinking water, and adding Water Boosters to improve your water’s flavor. Readers cried foul at the editorial content that was so blatantly an ad for a product, and not well-researched, reviewed, journalistic content pertaining to health and wellness.


So, is it possible to use native advertising ethically? We discuss that topic in depth here.