“Enhanced Advertorial Techniques”

I have to confess that the term “native ads” was new to me as I read the Atlantic’s spokesperson, Natalie Raab, explain the magazine’s propaganda page for Scientology – right next to journalists of the highest integrity, from TNC to Fallows. You might be too. Here’s what I found out about them from one man who played a part in coining the term last year:

“a form of media that’s built into the actual visual design and where the ads are part of the content.”

A little more Googling and I found this:

Launched three years ago, Native Solutions creates ad programs that have the look and feel of The Atlantic’s content. The goal: help brands create and distribute engaging content by making the ads linkable, sharable and discoverable. For example, take a look at the work it did with Porsche on the image-heavy sponsored post, “Where Design Meets Technology,” which was shared 139 times on Facebook and 80 times on Twitter. The Native Solutions programs has been so successful that it now accounts for half of digital ad revenue, which is up over 50 percent so far this year.

So you can see how letting advertizers drive content is lucrative and expanding. The Atlantic isn’t alone. Buzzfeed, Gawker, Forbes and HuffPo are all in the game – because online banner ads really are dead. But I can’t help but feel troubled by this development:

Like BuzzFeed, [Jay] Lauf has a 15-person creative team that helps brands create content and develop distribution strategies… Fidelity Investments is working with The Atlantic to find what Fidelity’s best assets are to tell its story. Fidelity, which uses its own in-house creative services team to create content, has a couple of campaigns on The Atlantic — one’s a video and accompanying infographic, the other is a series of pictures. Each is a branding mechanism, tying back to the financial company’s “Thinking Big” campaign.

Jay Lauf, again, is a great guy and a business genius. But when a magazine is actively working with an advertizer to “create content” that has “the look and feel of The Atlantic’s content” … well, all I can say is that if that is the future of online journalism, we should all be alarmed.