Native Advertising has a Branding Problem

A huge debate about native advertising has been raging in the media and tech industries for some time. What is native advertising anyway? Well it’s advertising that integrates high-quality (ad) content into the organic experience of a given platform; delivered in stream.

Some critics view it as dishonest in that ads often appear as if they were put there by the publisher naturally. Advocates argue that what matters is that content is relevant and useful to audiences, and produces good results for companies.

Native advertising represented 5-10% of Facebook’s impressions last year, but accounted for over 60% of the firm’s revenue.

Yahoo!’s Marissa Meyer reported in her presentation at Cannes Lions this year that native ad viewers are 3.6 times more likely to perform a branded search than traditional display ad viewers. Also, that 46% of millennials who observed branded content consumed the content, and one-third of those shared it.

So whatever your stance on native advertising, get this: it’s working.

You’re doing it wrong

I’m all for native advertising, or rather good native advertising. Actually I’m all for good advertising in any form. However, true insight into the functionality of native advertising is being lost in bad practice.

Just like any kind of advertising, your native advertising could be good or bad.

This is crucial to note when considering this debate. There’s a tendency for people to mix associations of poor examples (i.e. badly formatted, irrelevant content with no transparency) with good examples, and define the concept itself by how it’s practiced.

The issue with that is that something- in this case native advertising- isn’t necessarily bad just because a bunch of people are doing it badly. There are many companies who have practiced it both ethically and effectively.

The native advertising puzzle

The truth is that native advertising faces the paradox of being defined as effective by its subtlety, but also judged when that subtlety is viewed as deceitful.

My call is for companies to get behind real native advertising. And doing so starts by grasping a true understanding of its fundamental characteristics: naturally fit the user experience; publish on relevant platforms; support the process with quality data; and present the ad with transparency.

The good, the bad and the banner ad

Native advertising may suffer the same fate as display ads if the industry continues to implement it incorrectly.So it’s good news that companies like Google are willing to penalise bad practice.

Traditional display ad click through rates (CTRs) dropped from 9% in 2000 to 0.2% in 2012. I don’t think that’s because of what a banner ad is, but rather because we killed its effectiveness by allowing this to take the same place as legitimate display ads:

Did you even look at it? Okay it’s an extreme example, but I hope it drives the point home. And by the way, I would cite the ad if I knew where it came from.

People don’t mind being served paid content; they’ll even share it. But this is where the survival of native advertising is really a content marketing issue: the content must be of high quality to be engaging (and worth a share).

Looking forward

The concept of native advertising isn’t exactly new, however the recent buzz around it and its effective use in modern media has placed it on the hot seat.

Good native advertising is the result of synergies between publishers and brands with the intention of providing the most relevant content, in the right places, at the right time for customers and audiences who have need of it. And that, in my mind, makes it the best kind of modern advertising — let’s keep it that way.

Do you agree that the definition and brand of native advertising is being lost in bad practice? Let me know your thoughts by dropping a comment below.

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne via Marketoonist

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