The guy who brought us banner ads has a problem with "native advertising," reports David Carr in The New York Times (9/17/13). Back in 1994, it was Joe McCambley, founder of The Wonderfactory, who created a banner ad for AT&T on HotWired, "the digital version of Wired Magazine … The ad invited people to click through" to "a list of museums around the world." The idea was "to show that the Web could take you places." The banner ad was a huge success – resulting in a click-through rate of "44 percent versus the 0.1 percent that is now common."
We all know what has happened to the banner ad since, and Joe now sees it as a cautionary tale. "We were proud of that ad," he says. "But everything starts out good until we end up making it bad." He’s now worried that the trend toward "native advertising" – or "sponsored content" dressed up in the look and feel of publishers including Forbes, The Atlantic and others, may be damaging "the contract between consumer and media organizations." "It is a very slippery slope and could kill journalism if publishers aren’t careful," he says.
Joe’s main concern is that some publishers are "allowing PR firms and advertising agencies direct access to their content management systems and allowing them to publish directly to their site." The Atlantic has already gotten into trouble with this (link). Joe also sees problems on Forbes.com, because he says the mix of content makes it hard to know what is sponsored and what is not. However, Lewis Dvorkin of Forbes says the magazine’s high standards prevail throughout its site, and notes that its "audience has grown from 12 million to 25 million" over "the last three years."