The terms used to describe the merging of media and advertising are contested in regard to their scope, precision, application and suitability. In part, these are all buzzwords applied to practices that are varied and changing. The debates over suitable words reflects industry pressures, such as winning client support for ‘new’marketing practices. They also reflect industry sensitivities about what features are highlighted in the context of efforts to secure support from policy-makers, regulators and wider publics. Debates over definitions provide insights into the conceptions that inform practitioners and publics. They also reveal, and form part of, the ongoing struggles to determine how practices are governed by laws and regulations.

What is branded content?

Branded content is paid content that produced by or on behalf of brands.

The term refers to the creation and dissemination for brands of ‘editorial content’ of the kind associated with media, such as journalistic writing for (news, feature articles) or audiovisual content (documentaries, entertainment). Some of this is brands’ ‘owned’ media content (e.g content published on the brand’s own website, social media sites, YouTube channel etc.) and the manner of publication makes clear that the communication is paid for and controlled by the brand. However, much branded content is material that appears as editorial content in third-party publications, sites or online spaces that are nominally independent of the brand. The presence within media sites of editorial or editorial-like material that is paid for by brands is at the heart of the controversies surrounding ‘branded content’.

The various definitions of branded content can be distinguished by the features they highlight (a) control of content by brands, (b) brand communications on any material (c) branding within media content, and (d) communications about a brand. The last one certainly highlights the significance of brand references occuring within users’ online and mobile communications. However, the first definition highlights the fact that most, but by no means all, branded content is content that is paid for by brands and subject to control by brands themselves, whether that be in respect of content production or content distribution.

The Brand Strategy Research Group, at Oxford Brookes University and Ipsos MORI conducted a research project commissioned by the Brande Content Marketing Association (BCMA) and provide the following ‘managerial’ definition (Asmussen et al 2016: 34):

Branded content is any output fully/partly funded or at least endorsed by the legal owner of the brand which promotes the owner’s brand values, and makes audiences choose to engage with the brand based on a pull logic due to its entertainment, information and/or education value.

They also provide a ‘holistic’ or all-encompassing perspective whereby branded content is defined as ‘any manifestation associated with a particular brand in the eye of the beholder’ (Asmussen et al 2016:10).

For ‘branded content’, as well as other terms, a simple, agreed definition is unlikely because the practices themselves are fluid, varied, continually hybridizing, and contested.


Asmussen, B., S. Wilder, R. Williams, N. Stevenson and E. Whitehead (2016) Defining Branded Content for the Digital Age. Available at www.thebcma.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/BCMA-Research-Report_FINAL.pdf

What is content marketing?

Content marketing is the process of creating and promoting branded editorial content.

The Content Marketing Association (UK) defines content marketing as:

the discipline of creating quality branded editorial content across all media channels and platforms to deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success for brands’ (http://the-cma.com/about-us/).

 What is native advertising?

Native advertising is content paid for by an advertiser that follows the form and user experience associated with the context in which they are placed. It is advertising that is ‘native’ to the environment in which it appears.

A general definition of native advertising is promotional messages that match the design, style, and behaviour of the digital media in which they are disseminated. The Federal Trade Commission (2015) defines native advertising as:

content that bears a similarity to the news, feature articles, product reviews, entertainment, and other material that surrounds it online.

Such native ads appear in news feeds, publishers’ websites, search results, posts in social media, email and other digital communications. According to Couldry and Turow  (2014: 1716):

A native ad is textual, pictorial, and/or audiovisual material that supports the aims of an advertiser (and is paid for by the advertiser) while it mimics the format and editorial style of the publisher that carries it. (emphasis in original)

Native advertising is a digital variant of advertorials in print media. An advertorial is advertising that resembles an editorial news or feature article in style and layout. According to the Committee on Advertising Practice (2010, section III.k):

An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher, that is disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement.

Native Advertising Categories

  • In-feed

Advertising that is placed within a feed of content and which matches the content form. These include promoted news and listings on publishing sites and much social media advertising. E.g. News Feed ads on Facebook, promoted Tweets on Twitter

  • Widgets

Paid recommendation or discovery tools. Widgets are often linked to sponsored content. They are also used by publishers to drive traffic to their editorial content. E.g. Links from Outbrain

  • Video

Paid in-stream video advertisements

  • Other

There are various other forms of ‘native’ advertising’ such as sponsored playlists in online music services.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB 2013) identified six core interactive ad formats then in use as follows: In-feed units; Paid search units, Recommendation widgets, Promoted listings, IAB standard ads with “native” element units, Custom.


Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) (2010) UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing, 12th edition.

Couldry, N. and J. Turow (2014) ‘Advertising, Big Data, and the Clearance of the Public Realm: Marketers’ New Approaches to the Content Subsidy’ International Journal of Communication 8 (2014), 1710–1726

Federal Trade Commission (2015) Native Advertising: A Guide for Businesses. Available at https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/native-advertising-guide-businesses (accessed 31 August 2016)

IAB (2013) ‘IAB Releases Native Advertising Playbook To Establish Common Industry Lexicon, Evaluation Framework & Disclosure Principles’. Available at http://www.iab.com/news/iab-releases-native-advertising-playbook-to-establish-common-industry-lexicon-evaluation-framework-disclosure-principles/ (accessed 31 August 2016)

What is Product Placement?

Product placement is the inclusion for a commercial purpose of a reference (in vision or audio) to a product, service or trade mark within media content in return for payment or other valuable consideration. Product placement usually refers to promotions occuring in television programmes, films, computer games, radio or other audiovisual media content. Various terms describe the more extensive interlinking of brands with media programmes/media vehicles such as product integration or the broader term branded entertainment.