The New York Times recently highlighted a sometimes controversial new practice in advertising — sponsored content on news sites, also known as “branded content” and “native advertising.”
As the Times explained in its April 8 report, many sites including Mashable, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed “all use some form of branded content.” The content is paid for by advertisers but sometimes written by the site’s staff and “almost indistinguishable” from news content. The Times quoted well-known writer and former Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan as calling this type of content “corporate propaganda.”
While many view these types of content as a re-tread of advertorials, Mashable editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff rejected that label. Ulanoff told the Times “these are not advertorials…I know what an advertorial is. These are pure editorial.”
One such example of this sponsor content gone wrong came from The Atlantic earlier this year. In January, The Atlantic unpublished and apologized for a piece labeled “sponsor content” that promoted Scientology. The ad/article even included a comment section.
iMediaEthics asked the Times if it plans on ever hosting this type of ad. Corporate Communications manager Stephanie Yera told iMediaEthics by email:
“It is a priority at The Times that our readers are able to clearly distinguish advertising messages from our news and editorial content. For this reason, we tend not to accept native advertising or branded content.”