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Native Advertising's Growing Pains

native advertisingAdvertorials have been around for almost as long as print media itself. However in their latest incarnation as “native ads,” “sponsored posts,” “content marketing,” or whatever they’re being called this week, this type of advertising has become the flavor du jour for online marketers and advertisers everywhere.

The native ad craze

Pew Research recently reported that sponsored content now accounts for more than $1.56bn in ad spending and is growing by 39% every year.

With BuzzFeed and Gawker already leading the way, other publishers like The Atlantic and Forbes are also jumping onboard the native ad train. PandoDaily has reported that Conde’ Nast, Time and Hearst are also looking into starting sponsored content divisions.

A recent study by IPG estimates that native ads are viewed 53% more frequently than banner ads.

It’s hardly difficult to understand why native ads are so appealing. After all, rather than interrupting a viewer’s consumption of content, native ads blend seamlessly into the content flow. When it’s done well, native advertising can be compelling, entertaining or even informative.

Native advertising’s hits and misses

But as native advertising grows in popularity, problems will inevitably arise.

Not long ago The Atlantic ran an advertorial from the Church of Scientology. The post wasn’t clearly identified as sponsored and the publication was forced to rapidly remove it; releasing a statement saying “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way. It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand.”

BuzzFeed, the current ranking paragon of the native ad unit, recently received a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact on a sponsored post. Entitled “11 Awesome Facts You Never Knew About Rhode Island,” the post (which was sponsored by MINI USA) included the false claim that it was “illegal to sell toothpaste and a toothbrush to the same customer on a Sunday.”

PolitiFact didn’t seem to notice that the post was sponsored, and BuzzFeed, for their part, claimed to have performed due diligence. But the whole incident raises interesting questions that are likely to become more common as native advertising becomes more widespread.

Quality, relevance and transparency

The Guardian has identified quality, relevance and transparency as the three key factors to consider for publishers and advertisers when launching a sponsored post.

Quality, it goes without saying, is always important when it comes to any kind of content.

These days it’s pretty standard for modern content feeds to include articles sourced from a variety of outlets around the web. Therefore having sponsored articles popping up amidst those that appear organically also feels relatively normal. The important thing is for advertisers and publishers to make sure those sponsored posts are relevant to the publishing platforms they appear on.

Sponsored posts must also be displayed transparently in that they should clearly appear to be exactly what they are: advertisements in article form.

Planning for the future

Articles and content that aren’t high quality, clearly identified as native ads, or relevant to the platform they appear on, are more likely to trigger resentment towards the advertiser and the publication than they are to generate positive brand sentiment.

If native ads are to endure long enough to become more than just the latest marketing craze to come and go, brands, marketers and publishers alike will need to adapt these principles as guidelines in terms of how they execute their native ad content going forward.


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  • Edwin Dearborn's picture
    Aug 3 Posted 3 years ago Edwin Dearborn

    Too many companies are in confusion on this point of marketing. Those who do, will reap many benefits.

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