I remember as a young journalist reluctantly having to write up advertorials or what we now more commonly refer to as native advertising. Doors would slam as editors battled with advertising heads, reluctant to take their journalists away from a good story to write a “damn marketing fluff piece” as I remember one editor calling advertorials.

Traditionally, journalists and advertisers have been dubious of one another with a relationship akin to church and state. This uneasy relationship was predominantly due to journalists wanting to remain impartial and separate from paid marketing. Revenue brought in by advertising made it possible to fund journalists, whose work in turn attracted an audience appealing to advertisers. However, News Limited Chief Rupert Murdoch who would describe advertising as “rivers of gold” was conceding more than a decade ago that sometimes rivers dry up, saying he doesn’t know “anybody under the age of 30 who has ever looked at a classified ad”.

As journalist Christopher Warren wrote recently the digital challenge for the mass news media has never been about finding readers. It’s always been about advertising and getting revenue.

Ad blocking is not helping the cause and grew by 41per cent globally in 2015  with about 198 million users using these blockers. Display ads are hugely affected by these blockers.

With the decline of advertising, printed papers and the rise of digital, journalists in major news organisations worldwide have been contemplating their career futures.  Fairfax Media is cutting 25 per cent of its remaining metropolitan journalist staff, equal to 125 full-time jobs,  in an effort to help save $30 million across its Australian newspaper operations. A move which has seen journalists strike across the country.

Advertising dollars are desperately needed to keep mainstream media alive and the model for marketing is changing as consumers turn away from traditional advertising.  Statistics show that by 2021, native display ad revenue in the US will make up 74 per cent of total US display ad revenue, up from a 56 percent share in 2016.

What is native advertising?

So what is native advertising other than a fancy buzzword toted by online marketing gurus.

Well, also known as sponsored content it’s editorial in style and designed to blend in with a publication but paid for a business.  We used to call it advertorials. This increases the readability and reach of the content and requires a well-balanced writing style that gently nudges the reader rather than lambasting them with ads.

Some of the most well-regarded newspapers in the world such as The Washington Post, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald have adopted this practice, which while controversial to many as it blends so closely with editorial looks like it’s here to stay.

An example may be an informative, educational article on changes to the tax system and how it will affect taxpayers lodging their next return. It will simply have a note saying sponsored by a certain firm.

One of my favourite pieces of native advertising appeared on the New York Times website promoting the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.   At almost 1,500-words, the native ad featured stories, video and charts about female incarceration in the U.S.

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(Photo courtesy of the New York Times)

How native advertising impacts brands and the media?

Online news sites are packing a punch and are now the more popular form of consuming news over traditional television, print and radio news. The traditional advertising dollar is also falling as businesses start to explore other ways of connecting with consumers.

Editorial and news departments may still like to maintain their independence of each other in a way similar to the doctrine of the separation of powers. However, the media landscape has become increasingly complex in a matter of only a few years with vast changes in consumer behaviour along with how news is dispersed and received.

Like it or not native advertising is becoming an imperative part of content marketing strategies and how brands communicate, increasing loyalty and a strong following.