Pretty Much Everyone Is Doing Native Ads Now

WSJ, CNN, NBC included

With more marketers eager to shift their messages away from dull display ads to more creative and effective digital formats, news organizations continue to embrace native advertising, if cautiously.

NBC News has experimented with native ads on some properties—including Breaking News, and CNBC—but not its flagship site,

That may be about to change. 

“We’re still looking for the right content and the right advertiser—everyone’s open for it, but we’re not going to force it in,” said Peter Naylor, evp of digital media at NBC News Digital Group.

Following other news orgs, Naylor stressed that NBC has strict guidelines for native ads. He said, “The first rule is that there can’t be one user who doesn’t understand the difference between the editorial content and the advertiser content. The second rule is the editorial staff will never really be called upon to help create this content. Editorial will continue to create editorial—marketing and ad professionals will work on ad content.”

Even The Wall Street Journal has jumped on board. “We have sponsored streams of content and dedicated content pages that are very clearly identified as sponsored content,” noted Nina Lawrence, WSJ’s vp of global marketing, ad sales. “We want to avoid any confusion between Wall Street Journal content and a sponsor’s content.”

Other news operations are dipping a toe in the native waters while stopping short of going the full BuzzFeed route—that is, prominently serving up advertorials that closely (too closely for some) resemble editorial content.

CNN doesn’t run advertorials but recently featured a General Electric sponsorship on its Trends page that included an ad in the news stream. “ has clear guidelines that distinguish advertising from editorial content, and any sponsored content on our site is clearly denoted as such,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Recognizing the needs of clients and demand from the marketplace, the CNN ad sales team works closely with clients to customize a brand’s campaign to contextually align with relevant content featured on the site without compromising those guidelines.”

For all the hoopla, Lisa Valentino, ESPN’s svp of multimedia sales, said native ads are nothing new, adding the brand has run them for a decade. “The term is getting buzz because some startups are doing native ads and trying to make them seem new again,” she said. “The reality is, there is opportunity to be much smarter about native ads, which is the approach we take.” An ad running inside a scorebox is an example of advertising living near editorial, she offered.

The marketplace has clearly spoken. Demand for native advertising is huge and doesn’t appear to be going away, according to agency executives.

Brands are “very interested” in it, pointed out Ben Winkler, chief digital officer at Omnicom’s OMD, and publishers “undoubtedly” take a hit if they don’t get in the game. “If a publisher doesn’t offer native advertising and our client only wants to buy native advertising, the publisher loses that buy,” Winkler said. In the short term, he added, there’s “no question” that dollars are being lost.

Audrey Siegel, president of TargetCast, agreed that wary publishers could be doing themselves damage. “Does a publisher have to do everything an advertiser asks? No,” she said. “But if your peer group has figured out a way to do this responsibly and you haven’t, it doesn’t make you look smarter or better; it makes you less forward thinking.”