Among the many people who worry about native ads' effort to mimic the surrounding editorial content, you can count New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson.
With digital ad revenue in retreat at the Times, the company has readied a native ad platform to try to recapture those lost ad dollars. But Ms. Abramson has said publicly that the blurring of advertising and editorial is something that concerns her. (At least she didn't compare it to a deal with the devil, as her counterpart at The Wall Street Journal recently did.)
It seems Ms. Abramson can put her worries to rest for now.
Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sent a memo to staffers Thursday offering the most detailed look yet at its native ad ambitions. First and foremost, Mr. Sulzberger said, there will be no confusion between advertising and journalism.
"It has been developed by our advertising team in close partnership with design and the newsroom, and it will be fully consistent with the values of The Times and the expectations of our readers," he said in the memo. "We will ensure that there is never a doubt in anyone's mind about what is Times journalism and what is advertising."
That's what all websites promise when they sell native ads, but they just take different steps to deliver on it. Native ad units at The Times, slated to begin appearing on the homepage and section-front pages in January, will be wrapped in blue and labeled with the term "Paid Post." Mr. Sulzberger explained:
Our readers will always know that they are looking at a message from an advertiser. There will be a distinctive color bar, the words "Paid Post," the relevant company logo, a different typeface and other design cues to let readers know exactly what they are looking at. There will be strict separation between the newsroom and the job of creating content for the new native ads. And, we will require advertiser content to adhere to a very high standard of quality.
All native advertising is arguably meant to mislead readers in some ways, at least long enough to draw their eyes better than the traditional ads they easily recognize and look past. That point is not lost on the Federal Trade Commission, which held a day-long workshop this month ahead of possible guidelines or regulations on labeling.
No uniform label exists for native ads. At BuzzFeed, articles written by or on behalf of advertisers fall into a shaded box and carry the label "presented by." Forbes' native ad platform "BrandVoice" carries a label at the top next to the marketer's logo, a line of text reading "Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience" and a "What is this?" link that readers can click for a fuller explanation. Most native ads use the same typeface as the editorial content surrounding them.
The former chief revenue officer at Forbes, Meredith Kopit Levien, is leading the native-ad charge at the Times. She told a Times reporter that native ads will take the shape of any editorial content the Times publishes online, including text articles and video.