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General Business 360 Research Guide

Identifying and Citing Content Marketing

Sponsored content, content marketing, or native advertising is an article, blog post, podcast episode, or social media post that is designed to promote a product or service. Designed to blend into the publication's other content, this material has no relationship to the journalists, authors, or editors of the publication where it appears. The following clues will help you tell the difference between an objective, fact-checked article and paid advertising.


Clues for Identifying Content Marketing

Advertising Labels

Most reputable publications will clearly label sponsored content above or below the article or post, but the label can be small and unobtrusive. The labels vary but include terms like “Advertisement,” “Ad,” “Promoted,” “Sponsored,” “Featured Partner,” or “Suggested Post.” 


The New York Times, for example, labels advertiser content as a “paid post.” If you click on the label, you’ll read the following message:

“This content was paid for by The Healthy Living Coalition and created by T Brand Studio, the brand marketing arm of The New York Times. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in this post’s creation.”


LinkedIn and other social media sites also identify native advertising with the labels “sponsored” or “promoted.” However, it can be harder to tell if an individual poster is getting paid to recommend products.


Blogs, Newsletters, & Podcasts Connected to Company Websites

Although these won’t be labeled as sponsored content, they are, in fact, advertising. McKinsey Blog provides information but its main purpose is to draw potential clients to their website to learn more about what they offer. Goldman Sachs’s podcast Exchanges serves the same purpose; the episodes highlight the expertise of their employees and promote the company.


Forbes’ Council Posts

Forbes created a set of “councils” that members can join to promote themselves as leaders in their fields. Professionals on the councils pay to publish posts on Forbes, thus raising their profile in their industry. These posts are a tricky form of sponsored content; they usually have an author and a date and the labelling is unclear.


Organizations or Corporations as Authors

An objective, fact-checked news or popular magazine article will have a reporter or a staff writer on the byline. Sponsored content might not have an author or will have a company or organization as an author. For example, Deloitte pays to place native advertising in The Wall Street Journal in a series they call “CIO Insights and Analysis from Deloitte.” These articles may be interesting, but they are not fact checked or objective; their purpose is to promote Deloitte’s services. 

The Wall Street Journal also provides the following label on articles in this series:

Content from Our Sponsor Please note: The Wall Street Journal News Department was not involved in the creation of the content below.”


Undated Material

Without a date, a sponsored post seems relevant for a longer period of time and is therefore a cost-effective approach to advertising. Something that is trying to look like a news article or a blog post with business tips and doesn’t have a date is almost always trying to sell something. This technique is common in blog “posts” or podcast “episodes” associated with consulting firms or other companies that offer services related to the blog or podcast’s topic.


URL Clues

URLs are another place that a responsible news organization will label sponsored content. Here’s an example from Wired:


When Can Content Marketing be a Valid Source?

Sometimes credible sources offer free information in order to promote their brand. For example, the New York Times's podcast, The Daily, is available for free on most podcast apps and promotes the value of paid subscriptions to the newspaper. However, The Daily follows the same editorial standards as the newspaper; most of the stories it covers are based on reported articles that have been carefully edited and fact checked.

For sources that seem credible but might be content marketing, consider the following questions:

  • What’s the purpose of the source?
  • Is this source affiliated with an organization that is known for providing accurate information?
  • Who is the author and what makes them credible?
  • How does this source use evidence?  What makes that evidence credible?
  • What does this source leave out?
  • Can I confirm this source’s information with another source that I know is credible?


Citing Content Marketing

In rare cases, it can be useful to use content marketing that isn't affiliated with a credible source in your research. Cite a piece of content marketing according to the form or genre it takes. For example, if you want to cite a company blog, cite it as you would any other blog. Clearly identify that it is content marketing for your reader and explain how that fact aligns with your purpose in citing it.