Media Brands Shy Away From the A-Word, When It Comes to Labeling Native Ads

An Analysis of Two Dozen Companies Found A Variety of Terms Is Used

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A native ad on Refinery29.
A native ad on Refinery29.

Media executives insist their native ads are always clearly labeled to avoid confusing readers over which articles came purely from editorial staff and which content an advertiser paid to produce and run.

But an analysis of two dozen news and lifestyle sites, social media platforms and popular mobile apps shows that none of the companies that rely on this strategy for ad revenue actually refers to them in a way most recognizable to consumers: advertisement.

Instead, they lean on a variety of terms, such as "sponsored," "promoted" or "presented by." That's partly a reflection of the regulatory landscape. The Federal Trade Commission called publishers down to Washington, D.C. in December 2013 to discuss native advertising, but they simply advised media owners to make clear that something is an ad. The organization stopped short of issuing a mandate on exactly how the ads should be labeled.

A native ad is a piece of content -- could be text, video or a collection of images -- that more or less looks like a site's editorial work except an advertiser actually paid to create it. A July 2014 survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PR firm Edelman found that only 41% of consumers said native ads on a general news sites were clearly identified as paid for by a brand.

Native advertising is too often an "attempt to confuse the source of the content," said Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at City University of New York.

Publishing executivess uniformly disagree with the assertion that they're trying to dupe readers. Native ads fit with readers' consumption habits, especially on mobile, where content is delivered in a feed, they argue. They also insist fooling readers will only anger and alienate them.

And the reason they don't call them "advertisements" is because they say it's not an accurate description.

The Daily Beast, for example, calls its native ads "sponsored content." Mike Dyer, the Beast's managing director-chief product and strategy officer, said referring to these posts as an "advertisement" would be a misrepresentation. "A great display ad will divert people's attention from what they sought out to do," he explained. "Content is the thing people are seeking out. It is the end of the behavior chain."

That might be so, but marketers are also keen on labels that avoid the A-word. During a panel at the American Magazine Media Conference in 2013, Brent Poer, president of the Starcom MediaVest agency LiquidThread North America, said setting native ads apart from editorial content is akin to putting a "scarlet A" on the posts.

Here's how nearly two dozen media companies label their native ads at the article page level or, in the case of social networks on the list, how these ads are labeled in the stream of content. In several cases, a native ad carries multiple labels, as noted below. Click the word "example" beneath each publication or app listed to see what these native ads look like in the wild.

Website/app Label Where It Appears
The Atlantic Sponsor Content Above the headline and at the bottom of the article with the advertiser's logo
Bon Appetit Sponsored By In the byline with the name of the advertiser
Business Insider Sponsored Above the headline
Presented by In the byline with the advertiser's name
This Post is Sponsored by Bottom of the article with the name of the advertiser
BuzzFeed Brand Publisher The advertiser's logo and name is in the byline with this language immediately beneath it
Chicago Tribune Brand Publishing At the top of the page with a brief explanation that the article didn't involve the newsroom
Brand Publishing Right-hand column next to the headline, along with the advertiser's name
The Daily Beast Sponsored Content Above the article
Presented by Below the headline or first paragraph, along with the advertiser's name
Elite Daily Promoted By In a shaded box between the byline and the story art with the brand's name and a brief description of the brand
Facebook Sponsored Below the name of the brand, in the NewsFeed update
Forbes ForbesBrandVoice Above the headline
[NAME OF BRAND]Voice To the immediate left of the headline
Gizmodo Sponsored In the byline with the advertiser's name
The Huffington Post Presented by Above the headline, along with the advertiser's name
Instagram Sponsored To the right of the brand's name, when it's an Instagram ad buy
#spon In the caption of an Instagram picture when a brand pays someone to post it; however, often these posts don 't carry that hashtag or indicate in any way that they're brand sponsored
LinkedIn Sponsored Below the name of the brand in a LinkedIn update
Mashable Presented By Beneath the headline and story art with the advertiser's name and logo
The New York Times Paid For and Posted By Above the story with the brand's logo, both of which stay in view as the reader scrolls; language at the bottom of the post explains that the newsroom wasn't involved in its creation
The Onion Presented By Above the headline, with the brand's logo
Quartz Sponsor Content Bulletin By Above the headline with the brand's logo; language at the bottom of the story says Quartz editorial staff didn't write it
Refinery29 Refinery29 + [BRAND's NAME] Present Above the headline
Slate Sponsored Content Above the headline
Provided by Below the headline, with the name of the brand
Twitter Promoted Bottom of a promoted tweet
The Verge From Our Sponsor Upper right corner of the page with the advertiser's logo; language at the bottom of the story says Vox's editorial staff didn't create it; the brand's logo also shows up below the headline
The Wall Street Journal Sponsor Generated Content Above the headline; the advertiser's logo also runs beneath and to the right of the headline; language at the footer saying the Journal's newsroom didn't create the content
The Washington Post Sponsor Generated Content by Above the headline, with the brand's logo and a note saying "Content Created by WP BrandStudio"
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