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Atlantic’s native advertising fail


As a communicator, you’ve most likely learned about a form of digital marketing called “native advertising,” which aims to solve outdated (and widely ignored) forms of online monetization like the banner ad. If you haven’t, native ads are used to drive engagement by making the browsing experience more relevant to the user, emerging organically and containing personal significance to the consumer.

At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen when native advertising is done right.

Earlier this month, in an attempt to try out new methods of digital advertising, The Atlantic ran an advertorial sponsored by the Church of Scientology. The article looked much like other material on their website, save for a small yellow banner above that read, “sponsored content.”  That should have been enough warning, right? Wrong. The 156-year-old publication was met with heavy criticism from readers, disapproval from journalists, and even ridicule from The Onion. To make things worse, Atlantic spokeswoman Natalie Raabe disclosed that the marketing team moderated comments on the article.

Eleven hours after the incident, The Atlantic removed the article and released an official apology. “We screwed up,” they said. “We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge—sheepishly—that we got ahead of ourselves.”

So what was wrong with the advertorial? Was it that they accepted money from a controversial religious organization? Or that the content wasn’t relevant to their target audience, therefore creating a confusing and intrusive browsing experience for their readers? Whatever the reason, The Atlantic is currently reevaluating its digital marketing policy.

According to co-founder and CEO of paid content distribution platform Vivurl, Francisco Diaz-Mitoma, the key component of advertising is “creating a positive relationship between the advertiser, publisher, and end user.” No matter how native the ad is, if your readers don’t trust the ad, engagement rates will revert to that of the much-loathed banner ad.

What do you think of Atlantic’s failed attempt at native advertising? What kinds of precautions should be taken into account when implementing such types of digital marketing?

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One comment on “Atlantic’s native advertising fail

  1. As a result of all this, The Atlantic has updated their advertising guidelines. You can check them out here: http://advertising.theatlantic.com/static/img/upload/pdfs/TheAtlanticAdvertisingGuidelines.pdf (Hat tip to Publishing Business Today for the link.)

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