Paid Media Strategies series #1: Native Advertising. In the first in this paid media series, we take a look at Native Advertising, explain what it is and why you should be considering it for your next digital marketing campaign.
Age is no barrier to innovation. The Associated Press, founded in 1846 and the largest news-gathering organisation in the world, is to begin rolling out high-value native advertising on demand for clients such as Hearst Publishing.
Web users are losing their appetite for traditional forms of display advertising. While many consider advertising as a ‘necessary evil’ in order to access free content such as journalism, still around 40% of UK users are now actively taking steps to avoid encountering what they view as obtrusive marketing online.
The proliferation of ad-blocking software is causing consternation among publishers and marketers alike, and banner ads are seeing ever-lower rates of clickthrough. But it is pop-ups and autoplay video that draw the most ire, advertising that can easily distract from the content that the visitor is looking for, and can often delay loading speeds. Sites which make substantial use of this type of advertising tend to see high bounce rates.
Consequently, many marketing teams are searching for alternative means of communicating and forging connections with consumers, and native advertising has evolved as one potential solution. Yet there remains considerable confusion among both sides about what actually constitutes native advertising, how to identify it, and how best to practise it.
Native Advertising, explained
While there are various definitions available, native advertising can be neatly summed-up as content that simultaneously meets the editorial standards of the publisher and user expectations, while also featuring an actionable goal for the advertiser.
Essentially, it integrates so cohesively with the rest of the website’s content that it could potentially not be recognised as an advert at all. For the most part, this is content that has been paid for, though other forms of mutually-beneficial arrangements are not unknown.
A subset of content marketing, native advertising can take many forms from sponsored posts on Facebook to paid ads that appear alongside organic listing on search engines, but it is most commonly associated with sponsored, or branded content such as editorials or video. A natural follow-on to product placement, the product is no longer embedded within the content, it is now actually merged with the content.
Designed to closely emulate the other content on the website on which it is being published in both tone of voice and format, this native advertising typically sees high levels of engagement, is viewed for longer, and is more shareable. It will often aim for virality, but can also be controversial, as demonstrated by the Scientology debacle at The Atlantic
Benefits of Native Advertising
As mentioned above, native advertising fosters greater levels and depth of engagement and is particularly useful when reaching out to younger web users who are more familiar with encountering brand activity online. One publisher that attracts a young audience with its lighthearted approach to journalism, Buzzfeed, is especially adept at native advertising.
Due to the potential for virality – good examples include sponsored online quizzes or video such as Under Armour’s ‘Funny or Die’ comedy skit which attracted over 2 million views – native advertising can be immensely scalable.
Native advertising is an effective approach for marketers and brands wanting to leverage the credibility and authority of the publishing website, and is becoming increasingly popular everywhere from Spotify to Forbes and Twitter. It gives marketers the capacity for bold innovation, and for the user, it is normally far less intrusive and distracting than standard display ads.
Best Practise in Native Advertising
- Rule number one is that sponsored content ought to be labelled as such
Not making this clear leads to cynicism from web users and detracts from their relationship with the brand. There have been numerous examples in recent years of sponsored posts by celebrities endorsing products on social media without payment being disclosed, drawing the attention of regulatory authorities. When producing a piece of native advertising, it pays to consider how the audience is likely to receive it if they aren’t aware that is has been sponsored.
- Don’t treat native advertising as a press release
Brands should aim to become part of the conversation, rather than seeking to broadcast their message as loudly as possible. In order to evoke a positive and genuine response, the advertising should be engaging. It should try to understand the audience, and meet a need. Honest case studies are a popular approach in this regard. A balance must be struck in the effort to pose as genuine content, while not being deceptive.
- Correct placement is crucial
Key to native advertising is fitting in naturally with a website’s existing content, but brands and marketers must also keep in mind that there are some locations where people would prefer not to encounter it. Lifestyle publications such as motoring or fashion websites offer a fertile environment for native ads – brands are already prevalent in these areas. Yet native advertising when extended to serious news content will, research indicates, be received unfavourably. There is the potential for a breakdown in trust between the reader and the publisher, as can be seen from this survey by Copyblogger.
- Different types of native advertising provoke different responses
Note that the techniques in which native advertising can be employed typically engender varying responses from web users. Sponsored tweets, for instance, tend to be more favourably received than sponsored video content which is often seen as misleading.
Native advertising is still a relatively new concept, and as such many marketers struggle to define it. There also remain questions over its true value, despite the greater levels of engagement it receives than other forms of display advertising. Some research indicates that native advertising may have little to no effect on brand perception, either positive or negative – perhaps because it’s so well-disguised as genuine content that the message doesn’t get through.
The most successful ads are frequently useful and /or fun in tone. Serious publications have more to risk from native advertising, especially if the line between editorial and advertising is too blurry. When it doesn’t work, it tends to be the publisher that suffers rather than the brand.
As a means of communication and relationship-building, then, there is great scope here, but maintaining trust is essential.