The Ten Commandments of Native Advertising For Journalists

November 10, 2014

We’ve covered what native advertising is and how it can be of benefit to both advertisers and content creators – whether it be a news site, niche blogger, or broadcast journalism project. But given that native advertising can be a double-edged sword, what are the dos and don’ts of this relatively new field of marketing?

If you haven’t read the previous post, it may be best to go back and do that before proceeding. If you already have, let’s waste no time and get straight on with:

The Ten Commandments of Native Advertising


Ah, the Golden Rule of native advertising and one which overarches most of the Ten Commandments to follow: make sure you’re transparent about the nature of the content.

You don’t have to slap a flashing neon sign with a picture of the check that changed hands for the advertorial, but you do need to make at least enough effort to ensure that even the least observant reader doesn’t feel deceived. After all, an audience that feels tricked is incredibly hard to win back (and anyway, you’ll never be able to fool them all, as the proverb goes.)

At the same time, just because it’s sponsored content and labeled as such doesn’t mean you should contravene the second rule:


As a marketer, your main objective with native advertising is to sell a product or service. As a deliverer of content, it’s to create something that is highly engaging to the audience.

There’s no reason why these objectives should be mutually exclusive, and striking the right balance will create a winning scenario for all parties involved in the native advertising game.


For some time now, an inescapable part of creating content is to make sure it performs well from an SEO perspective.

If you’re a publisher who has been given un-optimized, sponsored content to go live, it’ll behoove you to not cut corners in this area. A little bit of time spent doing this can make the difference between an article going viral or languishing in your archives, and naturally you’ll be able to command a higher fee from sponsors if your content regularly flies.

If you’re the one sponsoring and creating the content, make everyone’s life easier by doing this yourself before sending it to the publisher. Given there’s no guarantee they’ll do it for you, don’t slack on the one factor that can single-handedly undo the rest of the campaign’s hard work.


It can take years of work before your web or broadcast journalism projects attract an audience and, in turn, begin to pull in some revenue. As such, it can be very tempting to greet anyone wanting to sponsor content with open arms.

Do be selective. If a sponsor tries to twist your arm into publishing sloppy content, or if the sponsor themselves are of questionable repute, the backlash you’ll suffer almost always outweighs the paycheck.

In short, don’t ‘do an Atlantic.’


Pretty much as above, but a subset of this Native Advertising Commandment is to avoid publishing things that go directly against the ethos of your enterprise. Run an eco-awareness campaign? Don’t accept glowingly praiseful native advertising from a big oil company, for example.

Your audience will undoubtedly hate you for it, and that’s the worst move you can make.


Speaking of audience trust, one thing that can bolster this is if the author of the sponsored content is given. Not the company putting it out; the person who actually wrote it.

Humans like stuff created by humans. You owe it to your human audience to respect this.


If you’re planning on hosting sponsored content, you need to recognize that the onus falls squarely on you to make sure it isn’t loaded with false information – not the writer, and certainly not the sponsor (who will, at times, neglect journalistic standards in favor of serving their own ends).


As with the above Commandment, it’s important to note that not all sponsored content that’ll be sent your way was written by a professional copywriter. Again, sadly not all sponsors who write their own advertorials understand the principles and benefits of creating good content. And that breed of marketer generally cares even less about your audience. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do the work for them here…

…or refuse to publish it as is and give them a little education.


Most publishers are surprised to learn that, in general, audiences don’t begrudge a little commercialism as long as the good content keeps flowing. But if your website and/or video content is absolutely saturated with native advertising – to the point where the audience has no idea where the non-sponsored content is – you’re going to end up with nobody to look at any of it.

Sponsors themselves aren’t immune from the saturation effect either. Choose where you’re placing your native advertising wisely, because over-exposure can cause people to lose faith in your brand (and the shotgun approach doesn’t tend to provide a good return on investment, anyway.)

And lastly, that brings us on to the final Native Advertising Commandment:


Native advertising can be a real boon to any marketing campaign and a far better way for publishers to monetize their content, but it isn’t a magic bullet and should certainly be implemented into a long-term plan. In fact, anyone just starting out with native advertising should probably ask themselves a very important question before they begin…

… is native advertising even right for the job?

It’s a relatively new field and with everyone jumping on the bandwagon, it remains to be seen how it all pans out (and how consumers will ultimately start responding to it). But in the mean time, stick by the Ten Commandments of Native Advertising and you’ll be well positioned for success.