Who Should Regulate Native Advertising?

American Magazine Conference debates the issue

Native advertising is being heralded as the savior of digital publishing, but as marketers' content treads increasingly on editorial ground, one of the big questions is: How should it be regulated?

To hear top marketers and ad execs speaking at the MPA—The Association of Magazine Media's annual American Magazine Conference Tuesday, the issue is far from resolved. The Wonderfactory co-founder and creative director Joe McCambley argued that publishers can’t allow advertising to mingle with content unimpeded. But Forbes Media COO Mike Federle contended that it should be consumers, not institutions like the American Society of Magazine Editors or the FTC, that set the guidelines for how native advertising is presented. Added LiquidThread North America president Brent Poer, “How puritanical are we? Should we put a scarlet letter ‘A’ on all native advertising?”

As for the future of branded content, McCambley voiced concern as to whether high-quality native ads can survive as the medium is adopted by Madison Avenue. (“You take most new ad forms and leave them in the hands of an advertising agency, and they go down the toilet,” he warned.) And don’t be surprised if “native advertising” isn’t even considered distinct from other types of ads in a few years’ time, said Ogden Publications CEO Bryan Welch. “There will be no need to identify it,” he said. “I see everything blending.”

Conference attendees also heard from BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti, who provided some insight into what makes his company’s content so viral. A few key pointers: Give writers the tools to understand how people are engaging with their content. Don’t worry too much about search. (An SEO-friendly aggregation of a Ben Smith scoop may do well on Google, but it’s the original story that will succeed in the social Web, he explained.) And, most importantly, make mobile a priority. (And not just because, as Peretti pointed out, people could die from trying to load your magazine’s non-mobile-optimized site while driving.)