Why marketers must respect the boundaries between different types of content


Content marketing, advertorial or traditional journalism? While marketers may know the subtleties of each, for the humble reader the difference between the three types of content can be much less obvious. Try to fool the reader into thinking they are consuming a piece of content that is entirely objective however and they can be left feeling cheated and distrustful of the brand in question.

It is largely for this reason that at the end of last month the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) released a set of guidelines to help the marketing industry provide better transparency to consumers around digital advertorials – suggesting in essence that brands provide prominent visual cues that show the content is marketing based and that it is labelled using wording that suggests a commercial agreement is in place.

But is this enough? The market is growing hugely. In 2014 for example content and native advertising spend – including paid for sponsorships, advertisement features and in-feed distribution – was worth £509 million, and accounted for 22% of display ad spend.

As a result, the boundaries for some are getting confused along the way. If brands are to maintain consumer trust it is essential that they stick to the definition for each rather than blurring the lines, especially since in the UK brands are required to be transparent with their content marketing and adhere to the regulations surrounding content provision.

Clare O’Brien, IAB's senior programmes manager, says the differences should be clear. “An advertorial is content that is controlled by an advertiser but published in a third party publisher environment – a digital or offline publication,” she says. “It’s a traditional form of ad revenue which has been redeveloped for digital publications, Advertisers sign off this content which needs to be compliant with CAP rules and is regulated by the ASA.”

In contrast, content marketing is a much broader term that includes the conception, creation, management and distribution of brand-owned content aimed at customers and influencers. “Publishers do not derive revenue from this content form but advertising campaigns across the media may drive traffic to this form of marketing asset,” says O’Brien.

Professional publishers in the world of traditional journalism have long supported advertisers with professionally developed content but its volume of increasing hugely. “Many traditional and digital pure-play news brands such as The Huffington Post, The Guardian and BuzzFeed have specialist studios making content for brands,” says O’Brien. However, here the distinction is clear. O’Brien adds: “These studios are separate from their news desks, maintaining the so-called Church and State divide within the organisation.”

And, in a world where traditional income may be declining this provides a welcome boost. “This form of ad-funding produces important revenues for media-owners ensuring the continued development of journalistic endeavours,” says O’Brien. For brands, it naturally ensures the content they are providing is as close to objective journalism as it can be – without of course infringing on their marketing message.

So what of the future in a world where both media and advertising is changing? O’Brien says continued relevance is key. “Marketers need to ensure that their marketing content is relevant, useful, entertaining or important for its intended audience,” she says. However making the right content alone is not enough it seems. “Marketers have to understand how to make this content visible to fragmented audiences across multiple media owners and platforms,” she adds.

Similarly, correct use of data is key. “This is as well as an understanding that it is the audience, not the brand, that needs to sit at the heart of any content strategy,” says O’Brien.

Brands that understand that – as well as properly respect the differences between each type of content – stand to get the attention of customers they are aiming for.

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