Beware the native ad infestation12/11/2013
Whenever a new website pops up and becomes super popular, eventually everyone asks the same question: How does this site make money? Usually sites first make it online with minor personal investments followed by private investors, but all investors want a return, and more likely than not that means advertisements. Though most people often tune out the ads, a festering type of advertisement can camouflage itself in the content a person actually cares about. This infestation is known as native advertisements.
All Internet users have seen them hiding in plain sight — in search results, Facebook newsfeeds, Twitter feeds, even CNN’s main page — posts and links that look like normal content but are actually advertisements. Some say “sponsored” or “promoted,” but others are not so aptly defined. Google was even sued into fine-print labeling their native ads. Regardless, though, they often prove to work. Currently reaping roughly $2 billion annually in revenue, native ads are projected to garner $4.5 billion by 2017.
Advertising has always been the lifeblood for content providers. Newspapers, TV stations, even church bulletins use advertising to sustain their business practices. However, online advertisements are not fixed like the old-guard. Online ads can be populated based on user behavior. So if you dance around Yahoo News’ entertainment feed, the ads will start populating with promotional content pertaining to your interests. Native ads further the deception with text and by mirroring the presentation site.
Native ads are so deceiving, in fact, they’ve caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. The government’s worry is Web surfers won’t be able to tell the difference between research, fact-based journalism and content that is public relations or promotional material. With trusted news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times considering native ads, the FTC hopes to discuss the ethics of the practice before journalism integrity becomes completely corroded.
While bringing this practice to light is prudent and necessary, without advertisements, sites such as YouTube probably wouldn’t exist. So it’s a trade-off that may not be worth it. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. For more tech insights, follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.