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The New York Times revealed a brand new website on 8 January 2014, replete with responsive design and native advertising.
As I mentioned in my article from earlier this week, native design: 12 examples of good and bad practice, it seems that with The New York Times adoption of sponsored content, 2014 will bring this marketing trend to larger, more mainstream publishing sites
Dell is the first company to take advantage of The New York Times new advertising model, with a six-figure, three month long deal. The deal also includes display ads as well as sponsored content.
Here’s a look at the current New York Times homepage.
Two fairly subtle, but not indiscreet ads for Dell straddle the The New York Times logo. A rudimentary scroll down the homepage doesn’t actually reveal any sponsored content though. It’s hosted under a separate URL called paidpost.nytimes.com.
Here’s a look at one of The New York Time’s first sponsored posts since the redesign.
As you can see, the light blue box around the post reads ‘paid for and posted by Dell’, the darker blue box carries the Dell logo, then within the article itself where it says who it’s written by there’s another Dell Logo. Each of the logos is a clickable link to the Dell homepage, much like the banner ads.
At the bottom of the article there is this disclaimer: "This page was produced by the Advertising Department of The New York Times in collaboration with Dell. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in its preparation."
Let there be no doubt that this is sponsored content. The New York Times couldn’t be more explicit in this.
How about the content though, does it match the tone of voice that readers of The New York Times have come to expect?
Personally, I don’t think it’s the most well written or insightful article ever written, and it certainly doesn’t carry the weight of The New York Times non-sponsored news items, but it does articulate a modern trend with well researched data and relevant interviews. It’s also not written in order to blatantly promote the brand within the text itself.
According to Ad Age, this article was written a by a freelancer, not from someone embedded within Dell. The story itself was also pitched to Dell by The New York Times ‘content studio’ and approved by the company. The New York Times obviously is interested in keeping things tonally Times-esque.
Paid posts will also live forever on the site, even when the partnership is finished and the display ads have disappeared, but will not be indexed by Google in the same way as news stories.
As far as social media goes, paid posts will not be shared via The New York Times’ Twitter or Facebook page. Any sponsored stories that are shared by readers through the article’s social buttons will generate an automatic amendment that states “paid post” in the tweet.
The New York Times seems to be making its native advertising strategy as ethical and transparent as it possibly can.
There’s a particularly venomous article currently on ZDNet that claims that “The New York Times has sold its soul for a handful of beans.” I would suggest that the idea of a publisher “selling one’s soul” for the sake of a different advertising practice is woefully naïve. Publishers need money to operate, advertising provides revenue. Display ads are increasingly failing to provide that revenue, therefore another approach is necessary.
Native advertising is one solution. Time will tell if it’s the best solution or even an effective one, but at the moment it’s keeping publishers in business and keeping staff employed.
The article goes on to suggest that the practice of native advertising is “exceptionally harmful because it makes it seem as if all content is corrupt.” I think it’s clear the article operates from an advertorial standpoint, and distinctly not from an editorial one.
However what if tomorrow, or at any point during Dell’s three month campaign, a story breaks revealing something negative about Dell? What if massive corruption is uncovered? A global conspiracy to sell exploding computers to children?
Obviously I'm writing this for comedic effect, but how about something more real world or ambiguous. A lawsuit against an executive? How will The New York Times report this?
I'm sure there are contracts and deals in place to avoid any such editorial turmoil, but it's interesting to speculate about the outcomes and possible tarnishings of reputation.
For more about native advertising, read this article on what is native advertising and why do you need it.