NEW YORK/LONDON: Advertising executives have mounted a strong defence of native advertising to the US regulator, as two new reports highlight the growing popularity of content marketing.

A survey for the Custom Content Council found that marketers allocated 37% of their budgets to content marketing in 2013 and that they preferred branded content to traditional advertising.

This was based on a 2.6% response to 8,000 emailed surveys to a random sample of companies across all industries. Lori Rosen, executive director at the Custom Content Council, told MediaPost that that the figures excluded native advertising and sponsored content, as the Council drew a distinction between branded content and native advertising.

Customer education was the main reason for using content marketing. In all, 49% of respondents gave this as their primary motivation, while 29% put it second.

The survey also found that repurposing of content was common, with social media emerging as the most utilised secondary channel.

Meanwhile, a new Warc Trends Report – The Content Revolution – examines the recent upsurge in interest in this area and argues that content marketing is more than just the industry's latest fad and in fact reflects several long-term trends within marketing and media.

These include the long-term interest in 'engagement' and the need to earn attention in a cluttered marketplace; the rise of low-cost content production and distribution options; the rise of social, and the interest in sharing and 'earned media'; and the importance of content to search engine optimisation.

Many brands have yet to develop a coherent content strategy, however, and the Warc report identifies three broad approaches. These include a campaign-led approach where a content idea forms the heart of a multichannel campaign; a social-led approach that sees brands drip-feed various forms of content onto social platforms; and a customer-led approach that focuses on the role of content at specific stages of the path to purchase.

Whichever is adopted, brands and publishers need to be clear on what is and is not advertising. The Federal Trade Commission's recent workshop on native advertising heard "every imaginable defence of the medium" according to Advertising Age, "from the standard 'native advertising is transparent enough' argument to a claim that consumers want more native ads".

Chris Laird, a P&G marketing director, said transparency was a brand imperative. "If it's not transparent, and it erodes consumer trusts, the ROI falls and we just won't invest in it anymore," he added.

A contrary view was offered by Bob Garfield, a former Ad Age editor-at-large, who likened publishers selling native advertising to exploiting an island of guano.

"With every transaction, publishers are mining and exporting a rare resource: trust," he said, adding that such deals would not save the media industry.

Data sourced from MediaPost, Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff