2 Ways To Avoid Native Ad Pitfalls: Transparency & Training
Ad blockers, banner blindness, skipped pre-roll ads, eroding email engagement rates, fragmented consumer attention across a panoply of screens, channels, and devices; the battle for consumer attention has never been more fierce or more difficult.
At the same time, an ever-increasing level of automation in programmatic digital advertising is eroding effectiveness further. This in turn places continual downward price pressure on display advertising, posing a real threat to publisher revenue.
Fortunately, the growing popularity of native advertising promises a new form of premium inventory for publishers. Here's why:
Good native ads actually add to the user experience. Native advertising's creative component is content marketing, i.e., messaging intended to attract rather than to interrupt consumers. Paid placement for attractive content can buck the twin trends of banner blindness and shrinking ad revenues.
Native can also be a weapon for mobile. It’s also hard to overstate the important role native advertising plays in the mobile ecosystem, where display real estate is both highly limited and more disruptive to the user experience. Publishers also stand to benefit from increased value and relevance to their target audiences because of the opt-in nature of the mobile medium.
At the same time, all players are vulnerable during this embryonic state of native advertising. Effective native advertising requires publishers to implement strict policies around transparency and disclosure, continue to maintain the authenticity consumers expect from their brands, and educate and retrain sales staff.
While the overall concept of native advertising as sponsored content may not be new, the complex digital and social layers of of a modern native advertising campaign do make it a breed apart from yesteryear’s standard advertorials. For example, native ads on social platforms raise questions about transparency, disclosure, and the role of the traditional church-state divide between editorial and publishing.
In order to navigate these challenges, publishers should work directly with brands and their agencies to create content that fits the following criteria (via “Defining and Mapping the Native Advertising Landscape”):
- Full transparency and disclosure of commercial relationship
- Aligns with publication’s style, voice, and point of view
- Maintains integrity of publisher/editorial relationship
- Effectively tells brand story through content
Publishers are launching in-house studios that offer not only writing services, but also creative to complement articles with imagery, video, and accompanying on-page banner advertising and frequently, social media amplification strategies, to create a total campaign package. Each facet of a native campaign calls for some sort of disclosure policy on the part of the publisher.
Publishers such as Time Inc. also find native advertising provides opportunities to monetize vast archives of editorial content. They can resurface and republish evergreen content, such as recipes that once appeared on editorial pages in the service of their advertisers, opening up another gray area around native advertising and transparency.
Whether a one-off sponsored story to a full-fledged article series, transparency is key to maintaining trust with the reader when deploying native advertising online. Even before the FTC began to scrutinize the space, common sense dictates that sponsorship of onsite content must be clearly labeled in all cases. The most scrupulous publishers also provide a link for further consumer inquiry.
Managing native ad content and client relationships also requires new skill sets, which demands new training.
The native advertising relationship between publishers and brands can be cozy. It’s not uncommon for publishers to find themselves in limbo, playing the familiar roles of editor and journalist while also acting as creative director -- often arm-in-arm with the brand’s agency partners. In addition to requiring clear policies around disclosure and transparency, publishers must ensure that traditional church-state divisions are not breached by, for example, external media buyers working directly with editors.
Publishers must also educate their sales teams around native advertising offerings. Many sales teams are trained to sell Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) standard display units, not highly customized solutions. Publishers are only beginning to realize and address this gap.
(For more on how publishers are retraining their sales teams, read "How Publishers Changed What & How They Sell in 2015.")
Editor's Note: To learn more about native advertising strategies and opportunities, attend the free Publishing Executive Live: Native Advertising Summit on March 16th in NYC. Contact publisher Matt Steinmetz at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on attending or sponsoring the event.
Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist. Her areas of specialization are digital marketing and media, with a concentration in content strategy, content marketing and converged media. She works with many of the world's leading brands on digital marketing innovation. Clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries, including Facebook, Home Depot, Nestlé, Anthem, Adobe, Honeywell, DuPont, Fidelity, Gannett, IBM, Save the Children, Pinterest, Cisco, ad and PR agencies, and The Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Earlier, she was Altimeter Group's digital advertising and media analyst, where she published what remains the largest extant body of research on content marketing, content strategy, and content's role in paid, owned and earned media. Prior to that, she was vice president at Econsultancy, where she launched the company's U.S. operations and grew the business to profitability in one year.