Edit: Contently studied this topic with disturbing results. I reserve the right to revise my opinion!
I wrote the following post in response to a brief Twitter conversation (screenshotted below) and an article by Jeff Jarvis: “WTF is promoted-native-sponsored-brand-voice-content? It’s an ad. That’s WTF it is.”
Anthony De Rosa (chief editor of Circa News) has a point. In effect, sponsored posts are advertisements. But the experience of reading one is more complex than that.
No one is going to click on an article billed as an advertisement. They shouldn’t, because reading several hundred words of traditional advertising copy would be tiresome. However, paid-for editorial can feel different from a hard-sell ad. Using a new term for a distinct practice does not constitute deceiving readers. Jarvis’ survey demonstrates that the terms currently being used are inadequate, but that doesn’t mean “advertisement” is the only option. I agree that clear language is needed, but I don’t agree with the conflation of regular ads and “content marketing”.
To cite an example that I’ve used before, this is a traditional Marriott ad:
Whereas this is a post sponsored by Marriott:
Underneath the vague disclosure—that part is not exemplary—is an actual story. Marriott paid for the essay and I associate it with them, but the text ignores Marriott. An unnamed hotel is mentioned once, but that’s as close as it gets. The purpose of this sponsored post is to link luxurious wandering with Marriott, which it accomplishes. Without being totally evil.
TL;DR? Be honest with readers, yes, but there’s no need to unnecessarily hamper native advertising. It’s frequently executed abysmally, but so is everything.