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Native advertising's murky definition

Native advertising's murky definition Rebecca Lieb

While working toward a definition of what native advertising is, it is equally important to focus on what native advertising is not.


The native part of native advertising is muddy -- more on that in a moment. The advertising part is crystal clear. Advertising has always meant renting either time or space for a commercial message from a media company.


Time or space? The time part generally boils down to 15, 30, or 60 seconds (the most common units) from a broadcaster. The space part entails a square, rectangle, or an IAB unit, usually from a publisher -- there are out-of-home opportunities for this as well. Advertising, simply, is renting time or space.


It was interesting, therefore, to attend a native advertising symposium as part of New York's Internet Week and to find that at least half the sessions contained the term "content marketing." Social media was discussed. Content marketing was discussed. But advertising -- the renting time or space part -- was hardly mentioned.


I'm willing to accept that content marketing is an enormous component of native advertising. Yet by definition, content marketing is not the advertising part of native advertising.  Here's a variant definition of content marketing from my latest research report that I published on the subject:


"Content" is owned media created by the brand and published or distributed on media channels the brand controls. Content marketing is the practice of creating and publishing in owned media channels, as opposed to advertising, for which media is always rented time or space. A radical shift in marketing budgets is occurring as companies shift spend from a legacy focus on advertising to investments in content. The trend is toward "pull" rather than "push" marketing and has been greatly accelerated by an explosion of owned media channels -- both those "fully owned" (e.g., websites and blogs) and social media channels in which brands largely control their presence and must continually feed with fresh content.

Content marketing, by definition, isn't advertising. It's owned media, not rented media. Native advertising, while difficult to differentiate semantically from banded, sponsored, or advertorial content, is a form of a union of paid advertising and owned content.


Where does the rubber hit the road? Disclosure.


Talk about meta: This recent article in The Guardian about content marketing appears to actually be native advertising. Or perhaps branded, sponsored, or advertorial content. It's hard to say because there is zero information regarding whether or not money changed hands.


Here's the entirety of the disclosure:



Jonny Rose is product evangelist for idio. The copy on this page is provided by Jugglit, sponsors of the digital entertainment hub.


Did Jugglit pay for this piece or provide free copy? Clearly it sponsors something else -- is this entertainment hub part of The Guardian? What is idio's role in this possible transaction?


I want to know. Don't you?


Rebecca Lieb is a digital advertising and media analyst at Altimeter Group.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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