When Instagram recently sought to change its terms of service, one of the most widely-discussed changes that sparked a backlash was language giving Instagram the ability to use a user’s “username, likeness [and] photos…in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.” And when readers of The Atlantic noticed that it had published an advertorial for Scientology on theatlantic.com, the magazine found itself in a no-win situation.

Native advertising: advertising or PR?

Naturally, the invitation to be a part of the user experience, in a variety of ways, is an attractive proposition for advertisers. But one of the biggest challenges advertisers face in taking advantage of this invitation is figuring out what to wear when they show up at the party.

The phrase ‘native advertising’ may contain the word ‘advertising’, but in some cases, advertisers are treating it like a PR tool. This is particularly true when it comes to native advertising formats that provide for long-form content

Read any sponsored post or advertorial, such as the one The Atlantic published for Scientology, and nine times out of ten, you’ll probably find that it reads more like a press release than a real article. Which isn’t all that surprising. After all, when given the ability to publish just about anything, why wouldn’t an advertiser produce copy that focuses exclusively on the company and paints the most favorable picture of its wares as is possible?

Guest blogging: a model for long-form native advertising?

Well, there is a good reason: the individuals advertisers are trying to reach probably don’t care for press releases because press releases are generally seen as providing more spin than value. Which means one thing: the online equivalents of magazine advertorials are probably going to be ignored just as much as their print counterparts. If that is true, long-form native advertising ironically not be any more effective than the banner ads advertisers are so eager to find a replacement for.

So what can advertisers do to ensure that native advertising doesn’t become as irrelevant as the banner ad?

When it comes to long-form native advertising, thinking like a guest blogger is probably better than thinking like a PR. Take this Econsultancy Blog, for instance. It regularly features posts written by guest bloggers — guest bloggers who are typically involved in some fashion with commercial enterprises.

Their guest posts, of course, aren’t written like advertorials. Most reputable blogs have standards, and a guest blog post that is really a pitch for the author’s company simply isn’t going to get published. So why do guest bloggers bother? There are a number of reasons, by from a marketing perspective, an important one is that by sharing their expertise, insight and practical know-how, they can demonstrate that they (and the companies they represent) may have something of value to offer.

A great guest blog post won’t necessarily result in a flood of sales, let alone leads, but companies should consider the fact that a sponsored post or advertorial isn’t going to either. In fact, it’s less likely to because it probably won’t even be read, and if it isn’t, it’s unlikely to be taken at face value.

Ad formats aren’t the problem, or the solution

At the end of the day, it’s clear that native advertising isn’t a panacea. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t offer new opportunities for companies to reach targeted groups, but to take advantage of these opportunities, advertisers must recognize that the ad formats in and of themselves aren’t the problem, or the solution, to online ad effectiveness. The problem is lack of perceived value, and the solution is to figure out ways to increase it, regardless of the ad formats being used.