You might, as a reader, wonder what on earth native content actually is. I covered it properly a little while ago on Periscope after I was contacted by an agency about doing native content on that particular channel.

Think of native content as hard-to-spot advertorial. True native content on any website or in any publication becomes different from advertorial in that it is more seamless within that site or publication’s editorial style. Here’s an example of something native that would fit seamlessly on my blog:

“Too Hot To Sleep?

On hot and sticky nights, I struggle to sleep, so I’ve been looking carefully at things that will help me get a good night’s kip. Starting with gorgeous facial spritzes infused with essential oils such as lavender and rose, these have certainly had an effect and feel very beneficial to my skin as well. I grabbed five minutes with Daisy Sheet, sleep expert from CoolBeds, and she explained that one way to stay cool is to spritz a lovely infusion onto a pillowcase and pop it in the fridge before laying it over your regular pillowcase. The result? Cool skin from the get-go that will help me get rid of that hot and sticky feeling. I’m also ensuring that I drink plenty of water and popping a couple of ice cubes in it too – although it’s tempting to spice it up with a slug of gin!”

So…would you know from that example that it was paid for content? The obvious name drop (and fictional native content advertiser) is CoolBeds, but it’s also written in a way that the reader may not realise that it’s paid content – like many of my posts it offers some practical solutions and some beauty advice too,  but nowhere on this will you see the words SPONSORED.

There’s a little legal loophole that means as long as the blogger/vlogger or author has full ‘editorial control’, there is no need to declare any sponsorship. It’s a very grey area that distinctly needs some redefinition.

Brands adore native content – the less viewers realise it’s paid for content, the more they’re prepared to engage with that content. It’s actually quite shocking when you start to spot it – any number of well-known publications – both on-line and print are doing it, and doing it often.

Now, you might be thinking, “How does a native advertisement differ from an advertorial?” Well, in order to be considered a true native advertisement, the content should align with the publication or site’s established editorial style and tone, and must also provide the kind of information that the publication’s audience typically expects.

These qualities are what make native advertisements difficult to spot, as they often blend in with the “organic” content extremely well. This is made even more challenging by the fact that there are no defined rules or guidelines on how publishers must label native ads, and standards of transparency vary widely from one publication to another. The whole point of native advertising is to make for a blurring of the lines – and you could call it trickery, misleading or any number of things, but right now, it’s not illegal. I’m not interested in naming names, but instead helping readers/viewers to spot it where possible. It is of note, however, that the ASA does rule that paid for links must be flagged, and further to that, it’s possible that it can fall under Unfair Trading Regulations. However, the ASA are being dramatically slow in conducting their studies to establish how to apply advertising codes to blogs and vlogs which is hugely disappointing.. if they can’t get it together, who can?

But neither does that make it right. What might look like a grand day out being treated like a queen by a beauty brand could quite well be native content. The brand gets plenty of mentions but nowhere will you see that the star of the show was paid to do it by the brand.

So, never mind the bloggers/vloggers/publications that collude with native content – why are brands even offering this out in the first place? Surely they don’t want to trick us? If you have no pride in working with a publication, you might try and hide it, I guess. But, if you are proud to be working collaboratively, why not say so? I’d ask the same question to the publications that take it. It’s sold to brands by agencies as a way to get a higher engagement level, make more impact and sell more product – all of the things that brands are desperate to do and the fact that often it can and does do all of the above makes it difficult for brands to resist.

The idea that it can be so difficult to tell the difference between paid for and non-paid for is exactly what brands are after, but it’s my view that we’re on the cusp of a huge name and shame. I work closely with many brands at a PR level. It’s obvious that they’re completely baffled by their media agency activities and are just hoping for the best that they know what they’re doing. They do know, and that’s the problem. Brands seen to be colluding with misleading or at least trying to fly under the consumer radar won’t look pretty when the fall out begins. I’ve spoken to brands about their native content policy and invariably they look a bit shifty – honestly!

The bottom line is that if you don’t know you are looking at paid for content, it’s misleading. Which is completely at odds with the ‘editorial control’ loophole. It’s time this was shut once and for all. Brands should be as proud and pleased to be openly working with us as we are to be openly working with them.

Most of the bloggers/vloggers/publications I know are genuinely delighted to be working with brands, doing it in a professional and above board manner and are very happy to say so…. But there’s also too big a proportion of them that think it’s absolutely fine not to breathe a word and to actually help create misleading content.

Native Flags:

  1. Heavy use of a brand name.
  2. Quotes from brand spokespeople.
  3. High production value of a vlog or post (creators are often unlikely to spend (or have) the vast amounts needed to create the high production value content).
  4. Background visual ‘noise’ in the form of one brand or one holding company’s products.
  5. Behind the scenes content.
  6. Posts/videos embedded or hosted on channels other than their own.

Both Hayley over on LBQ and I have had our say also on the Periscope app about all things native and transparent, so do feel free to follow us there (me at Britbeautyblog, Hayley at LBQ.com) and hear (and see) what we have to say. Funnily enough, if you followed my posts from a few weeks back when I said I sensed change, everyone is unsettled in blog world.. I’m starting to think that the changes are setting out to be less tolerance of those working outside the ethics of the blogosphere, and more importantly, no fear of saying so.

A reader has very helpfully pointed me in the direction of this video (10 mins) by John Oliver that will explain more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc

*all products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.