By any measure, the ad is awful. It’s ugly, it’s poorly written, it’s uninteresting. Normally, no one would care. “Ugly, poorly written, and uninteresting” defines a lot of advertising today. The difference with Shell’s ad, and the reason why we should care, is that it is intermingled with The Post’s editorial content.
Fortunately for The Washington Post, there’s no risk that Shell’s ad will be mistaken for editorial. The ad stands out like a boil on a witches nose, unnatural and disgusting. The Post says the Shell ad is “native” because, “…it’s integrated among editorial stories on the page. It’s labeled ‘sponsor generated content’ and (has) visual cues of background shading and fonts that are different from the surrounding articles.”
If that’s the definition of native, and if it allows for atrocities like the Shell ad, then we need a new definition.
How about this:
Native advertising is content created by a brand that is at least as engaging, educational, informative, entertaining, enlightening, beautiful, and well written as the content that surrounds it. Native advertising is so good it benefits readers, publishers, and advertisers alike.” That’s not a definition that encompasses all native advertising–just the kind I hope to create or experience.
If I were the CMO at Shell, I’d have my agency in my office today, and I’d tell them that’s what I want.
If I were Frederick Ryan, newly-installed publisher of The Washington Post, I’d have my ad sales team in my office right now, and I’d tell them not to bring me anything less than that from advertisers ever again. “If you’re going to mingle ad content with my content, it had better be worthy.”
You may be crying, “What about church and state? The publisher at The Post can’t talk to the ad people about content. We can’t afford to slide down that slippery slope!”
I disagree. If a publisher puts a fence around his editorial and says, “Nothing gets in the gate unless it meets MY standard for greatness, MY standard for truth, accuracy, and utility to our readers,” then who gets harmed? The reader? Nope. The Washington Post? Nope. The advertiser? Nope. Advertisers should welcome that kind of scrutiny. Someone has to tell the king he’s naked.
Besides, does anyone want to slide down a slope that results in that ad from Shell?
One of the worst possible violations of church and state is to allow crappy content to be confused with editorial content, because then all content is devalued. If advertisers are going to be allowed to mingle marketing content with editorial content, publishers and editors—or their designates—are going to have to enforce standards of greatness.
What’s your definition of great Native Advertising?