Affiliate marketers have been blasted with claims they are not doing enough to establish a difference between editorial and advertorial in their content.

The topic of native advertising and its visibility to the reader has been laid bare by Craig Gooding, founder of video ad firm Vibrant Media, who believes affiliates must do a better job of highlighting the presence of paid-for ads on their sites.

“It’s notable that some publishers are actually toning down their labelling of native ads, and that many affiliate marketers often have no mechanics whatsoever to communicate to consumers that the links and recommended content around their site are actually ads,” he stated.

After reviewing the findings of his company’s most recent report on native ads, Gooding is calling for a set of “effective mechanics” for alerting viewers of when an advertiser’s work comes into play. 

The all-too-subtle sell

Vibrant, which specialises in generating in-content experiences for brands, recently surveyed over 1,000 UK consumers – each of whom possessed at least one web-connected device – to ascertain their views on native ads. 

Loosely interpreted as branded creative which takes the same form of the content in which it appears, the study found that native ads may be blurring too many lines after one in five of the respondents (21%) claimed to have previously mistaken online advertorial for regular piece in the publication’s own style.  

Upon discovering the real truth, just under half (49%) of the group said they had felt misled by the advertiser or publisher, with 49% of this group believing the act to be intentional. 

This led to Vibrant stating that native ads should be “unobtrusive”, representing a natural component of the reading experience, as opposed to “indistinguishable”, which sparked further comment from Goodman.

“Consumers find great utility in advertorial – it’s informed, in-depth and retains the integrity of brands’ messages,” he commented. “However, irresponsible use of advertorial can be brand damaging. 

“Brands must use the right labelling and transparency mechanics to ensure consumers do not get annoyed because they feel that brands or publishers have set out to mislead them.

Outbrain falls foul

Other findings from the report showed that effective labelling for branded content could help affiliates repair their native ad mechanics.

Vibrant discovered that 47% of the group felt it was important to know when an advertiser has paid for coverage from a publication. 

Content recommendation platforms may take heed of some of the advice gifted within Vibrant’s report on native ads. Earlier this year the UK Advertising Standards Authority deemed a key player in this space, US-based ad platform Outbrain, to be in contempt of rules which state that links from a publisher to an external website should be clearly identifiable by the viewer.

Outbrain went on to remove the offending promotion from its system and, after changing guidelines on its site to reflect a requirement for ‘value-adding experiences’ on landing pages, state that reader trust was a “number one priority”. 

Do you feel affiliates are to blame for the lack of clear labelling on native ads? Make your views known in the comment section below.