There’s a great article on native advertising in the Guardian today (thanks Dom Waghorn) by ad thought leader Bob Garfield.

The gist of the article is that although native advertising (aka sponsored content/advertorials/astroturfing) has been heralded as the saviour of the display advertising industry and the channels/publications that rely on it, native advertising is evil. It is evil because it relies on duping the audience – Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer says she feels “less fulfilled” when she doesn’t see these ads, but in truth native advertising is a pathetic last wheeze / gimmick of a dying industry having to resort to duping people – both advertisers and audiences.

But the real problem is surely not that native advertising is evil by some Platonic editorial ideal – it’s that in practice it is bad for business – the business of the advertiser, the business of the ad industry and the business of the advertising platform (publisher/channel).  

For the platform, sure – you get a short term bump in ad revenue, but long term you will surely lose audience as the value of your content proposition is undermined by being diluted with ad content (often disguised as “from around the Web” editorial style links).  You make your readers work harder to weed out the ads. For the business (and digital ad agencies), dressing up paid media as earned media cannot but erode digital advertising effectiveness – these astroturf ads will surely suffer the same fate as the banner blindness affliction of banner ads.  And native ads also undermine brand image by undermining trust - the fundamental purpose of branding is to communicate authenticity – but native advertising is inherently inauthentic.  Where does that leave the brand? Smacking of desperation. And who wants to buy a desperate brand?

The bright side for entrepreneurs is that there is a business opportunity in developing a native ad blocker.

For advertising platforms – the Financial Times has got it right – specialised content that people with money are prepared to pay for.  And the advertisers who get it invest in creating products worth advertising get it right too.  Advertising works when you have something worth advertising.  Content works when it is content worth paying for.

No astroturf necessary.

Native ads, not evil. Just dumb.