The American Magazine Media Conference wasted little time Tuesday delving into one of the ad world's most buzz-worthy and controversial topics: native advertising, the sponsored posts designed to get readers' attention by more or less mimicking the editorial.
Just last week the American Society of Magazine Editors updated its guidelines to say sponsored stories on the web should not, among other things, use the same font or graphics as a site's editorial articles. That would put some publishers in violation of the guidelines, including Forbes.
But the panel, which included executives from Forbes Media and Starcom MediaVest Group's LiquidThread North America, seemed to agree that native ads must look and feel more like the editorial content that surrounds it, not less.
"The industry worries too much about labeling," said Joe McCambley, co-founder and creative director of The Wonderfactory. "For 100 years we've conditioned people to ignore advertising. Native advertising changes that with the right content and intentions."
"A very small group of people shouldn't over-police native advertising," added Brent Poer, president of LiquidThread North America. Setting native ads apart from editorial content is akin to putting a scarlet A on the posts, he said.
Forbes Media COO Mike Federle echoed that sentiment. "It's important for us that it looks like a content site," he said of BrandVoice, the Forbes sponsored post program. He did indicate, however, that readers should know that what they're reading is from an advertiser.
Mr. McCambley, who is credited with helping to design the first banner ad, said that assigning the creation of native ads to creative teams that sit outside the newsroom -- a common practice among most publishers -- could impede this fledgling practice. "Take most new advertising forms and put it in the hands of adverting agencies and it goes in the toilet," said Mr. McCambley. "Native ads need some form of editorial oversight."
But if the conversation around native ads, which has come to dominate industry chatter, is becoming tiresome, simply wait a few years, said Bryan Welch, CEO of Ogden Publications, the publisher of Mother Earth News and Utne Reader.
"We won't be using the term native advertising in five years," he said. "There will no need to identify it. It will all blend."