Native Advertising: Soap Operas for the Digital Age
Even if prudence is the operative word in native advertising, publishers do run the risk of reader backlash, says Lindsay Nelson, VP of integrated programs at Slate Magazine. "Readers tend to be sensitive and opinionated when it comes to sponsored content. Any content that is produced and promoted runs the risk of some kind of reader backlash, negative commentary, negative social reaction, etc. Advertisers need to be willing to accept the space that they are playing in and realize that this hybrid advertising/editorial medium comes with this risk."
"Publishers also risk trust and content integrity if they provide their readers with branded content that heavily pushes a brand agenda and/or isn't relevant in any way to their audience," says Nelson. "Publishing a few pieces like this could easily turn off an audience who was once open to viewing the native advertising content you previously published. It could also create a perception that a publisher is selling out to the brand just to get the dollars. Native advertising is most successful when publishers and advertisers work together to create relevant, interesting and authentic content that appeals to the reader base and provides a positive association with the brand. If publishers don't stand firm on this, they put their credibility-and ultimately native performance-at risk."
However, not everyone is onboard the native advertising train. The breadth of media choices available today means publishers should ask themselves if they can afford to gamble with their brand, says Bryan Welch, publisher and editorial director of Ogden Publications, publisher of Mother Earth News. "All our marbles are presently bet on our editorial brand. The brand's value is the core of our business. Its preservation is our first priority."
According to Welch, Mother Earth News has grown quickly over the past 10 years because it has focused on growing its audience and improving engagement by creating media tailored to readers' preferences. "If any criterion other than the audience's preference is employed to build a media product, I believe we're risking the value of the product. I'm not saying that native advertising, per se, will destroy a media brand. But to the extent that the native advertising might diverge from the audience's preferences, the brand's value will be diminished."
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.