How Publishers Disclose Advertising Content

When it comes to advertising content (aka sponsored content), publishers are still feeling out how to properly disclose what exactly it is that readers are seeing. This has fueled debate that advertising content is not clear to users.

Digiday looked at several publishers that generate revenue through creating content for advertisers. Each has a devoted link somewhere on its site with its content guidelines. And while all have some kind of pithy language on the piece of content saying that it’s sponsored (like “brought to you by,” “presented by,” “partner content”), only one, NBC News, uses the word “advertiser” in its description. Sure, potato/potahto, you may say. But readers coming across a piece of advertising content may not know it’s a piece of advertising if all they see is “partner content.” Here are four publications that have guidelines for advertising content and descriptions of how each discloses on a particular piece of content.

MIT Technology Review
Technology Review has a devoted URL to its sponsored content guidelines and in clear language explains that “material from advertisers is always unambiguously labeled, and the sponsor is always clearly identified.” For example, this piece of sponsored content that’s a downloadable collection of new energy breakthroughs reads “brought to you by National Instruments.” The guidelines say that advertisers “have no influence on editorial decisions.” To further drive home the point that there’s a clear separation of advertising and editorial, the guidelines explicitly say that the advertising content is created either by the brand or Technology Review’s advertising team. Interestingly, Technology Review’s publisher, who also happens to be its editor-in-chief approves subject matter and relevance of the advertising content.

The Atlantic
Not too long after the 156-year-old publisher angered the media world by running a piece of sponsored content from the Church of Scientology, senior executives from different parts of the business — advertising, marketing, sales and edit — sat down to create sponsored content guidelines. When looking at a piece of advertising content, like this piece by IBM about cognitive computing, there is a yellow “Sponsored Content” tag (as well as different colored font on its leaderboard) with a “What’s This?” rollover that says, “This Content is made possible by our Sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic’s editorial staff.” The guidelines say that content “created or commissioned by advertisers” goes through The Atlantic’s marketing team, not editorial.

Huffington Post
Sitting on its sponsored content page, in the right hand rail, are the HuffPo’s advertising content guidelines. Well, not really guidelines, but more of a throwaway explanation of what its sponsored content is. It reads, in part, “The Huffington Post’s Sponsored Content is in the business of connecting advertisers to our audience and beyond.” There’s nothing that explains who creates the content. This Cisco-sponsored slideshow about women in science, technology, engineering and math is labeled with “sponsored feature” and “in partner with.” That’s it. There’s no scroll-over, no understanding of what this advertising content is.

NBC News
NBC News has recently gotten into the “native” game. Advertising content on Today.com, like this Estee Lauder piece about tips for making your skin look young, is labeled as “advertiser content” and includes a “what’s this?” scroll-over. It reads: “This is a paid advertisement. The content is created by the advertiser and the NBC News sales department, not the NBC News editorial team. Learn more here.” NBC also has a PDF of its advertising content guidelines, which repeats the “what’s this” statement and adds a section explaining that should comments be turned on, “advertisers do not moderate any comments on NBC News websites and NBC News reserves the right to reject or remove any advertisement at any time.”