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Native ads polarise participants

News, 17 February 2015

LONDON/SYDNEY: The two sides of the native advertising debate have been brought into sharp focus in the comments of two leading industry figures, one advertiser saying no-one cares much and one publisher turning away business in order to protect its own brand.

The head of the Guardian's native ads division outlined the stance the newspaper was taking, as she told Marketing that Guardian Labs, set up a year ago to work directly with brands on this content, had rejected a "fair number" of brands because they did not fit with the paper's ethos.

"We can't afford to jeopardise [readers'] trust," she explained, "and that's difficult for certain brands to get on board with. If it's sponsored, it has to be editorially independent – we're hard and fast about that."

And she was dismissive of the short-term wins that could be achieved by "hoodwinking the reader [into thinking] that a commercial message is independent editorial".

At the opposite end of the spectrum – and the world – the managing director of the International Advertising Association was in Australia telling Mumbrella that the public was not particularly bothered by this argument.

"Church and state might just be a hangover from the old days but I don't think the average consumer really cares," Michael Lee said.

But he wasn't advocating the complete elimination of the lines between sales and editorial. "Responsibility is always something that publishers need to keep an eye on, as is trust," he stated.

He was essentially taking a pragmatic view of how the industry has been developing. "If you look at the global brands who are doing native advertising they have done it really carefully and prudentially," he said, "and if that's the trend we continue to see then native advertising is here to stay and it will do extremely well."

Only last week the Interactive Advertising Bureau in the UK released the first part of a set of guidelines to help the marketing industry provide more transparency to consumers around native advertising.

It recommended providing consumers with prominently visible visual cues and appropriate labelling to enable them to "immediately understand they are engaging with marketing content compiled by a third party in a native ad format which isn't editorially independent".

Data sourced from Marketing, Mumbrella, IAB UK; additional content by Warc staff