In my new column in The Drum today, I show how Google Ads’ new SERP design seemingly violates the Federal Trade Commission’s specific guidelines for search engines:
Today, everyone wants to pretend that ads are not ads. So-called “native advertising” is one of the most disingenuous examples.
Recently, I searched Google for a topic relating to marketing software. Here was part of a newly designed search engine results page (SERP) that appeared:
The Google Ads listing at the top and the first organic result at the bottom were virtually identical except for small icons in the top-left corners. (See my tweet at the time for some interesting comments in the replies.) The icons seemed to be whatever favicons were used by the listed websites.
With both Google’s change and native advertising in general, we are seeing a blurring of the boundaries today between what I will oversimplify by calling “ads” and “editorial”. Little good will come from this – for marketers or consumers.
The beginnings of native advertising
The online advertising world has many problems. Ad fraud. Ad blocking. Ad tech middlemen that steal money. Metrics that are unaudited and often fake. Banner blindness. Annoying pop-ups. The dumbing down of everything into “content”. Autoplay video and audio. Personal data collection. Personal tracking. Fraudulent influencers. Unnecessary personalisation.
For some of those cases, native advertising has been promoted as a solution. According to the Copenhagen-based Native Advertising Institute (NAI), the practice is using “paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears”. In other words, it is an advertorial.
“Native advertising” is yet another example of a cliched bad practice today: take an existing marcom tactic such as advertorials, invent a new word for it and claim that some major change has occurred. (NAI did not respond to a request for comment for this column.) But that does not mean the practice never has any value.