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Content marketers who have gotten comfortable with the concept of native advertising may find their world rocked by a new app called AdDetector that flags sponsored content with a flame-red in-your-face banner message.

Created while off-the-clock by Google engineer Ian Webster, it’s being offered as a free plug-in for Firefox or Chrome and works with about a dozen sites.

BuzzFeed story flagged by AdDetector

Content sponsored by Cheerios promotes the concept of health.

Publishers now routinely feature sponsored content, appealing to them in that it’s either revenue-generating or free. Although many aggregate such content in dedicated areas (identified as “Around the Web” or “From our Partners”), some are beginning to integrate it in less predictable ways, and the industry has been unable to come up with consistent standards and practices. Although trade groups including the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists offer disclosure guidelines for paid content, the rules seem to have gone out the window with the proliferation of digital media.

The result has been a grab-bag of approaches. The Wall Street Journal identifies “sponsor-generated content” while BuzzFeed tags such stories with a “brand publisher” label. In truth, much of the paid content is indistinguishable from the sort of soft features a general interest media outlet would typically run. No surprise, given many brands are hiring trained writers to produce engaging, relevant material they can service to media outlets.

Most of the time, it seems harmless enough — beauty articles that create a “favorable environment” for a sponsor’s ad adjacency. Sometimes it’s shameless propaganda, as in “10 Best” lists that tout paying players. Today’s web-savvy consumers are not doubt developing detection skills on a gut level. Webster, however, is not alone in believing it’s a problem. “Unfortunately passing off sponsored articles as real content is becoming lucrative business for well-known publications,” he wrote on Reddit.com, announcing the product earlier this month.

In today’s world, where consumers are signing up by the millions to actively follow a corporate Facebook, YouTube and Twitter feeds, it’s clear they don’t view dialoguing with a brand as a negative thing. In instances where the tie is not so obvious, is it unethical not to explicitly disclose, or to obfuscate, a sponsor relationship? As a result of Webster’s invention, that question may be mute as the demarcation between pure editorial and paid content is made crystal clear.

AdDetector works using an algorithm that scans metadata for a signs that content is sponsored. As ghacks.net explains: “You are probably wondering how it is doing it. If you check the source, you find several rules that are used for detection. If you take the New York Times website as an example: any content loaded from ad-assets.nytimes.com is flagged as being a sponsored post.”

AdDetector currently supports are detailed below, and Webster says he may soon expand the list:

The Atlantic
Buzzfeed
Deadspin
Fastcompany
Forbes
Gawker
Huffingtonpost
Mashable
The New York Times
The Onion
Slate
Vanity Fair
The Washington Post

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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