In the last few years, native advertising has been in vogue. Indeed, media companies touted it as the savior of publishing. More and more publishers offer it. Even the Grey Lady. Native advertising is when brands create or commission their own content and then pay publishers-like Forbes or The New York Times-to present that paid content in a similar manner to regular content. It looks like content. But it is actually advertising. In a perfect world, native advertising lets a brand access the audience of The New York Times in the same way that the news does.
"Brands want their message relayed to customers in a way that does not interrupt but adds to the experience," writes Tony Haile of Chartbeat.
But does it work? Haile's team did an experiment and analyzed billions of views. It turns out that a typical article online gets more than 15 seconds of engagement from about 2/3 of the people who click on it. But the average piece of native ad content only gets more than 15 seconds of engagement from 1/3 of people who click on it. While 71% of viewers scroll down on regular content, only 24% scroll down on native ad content. And even then, among the 24% of people who scroll, only 2/3 won't make it past the first third of the article.
"The truth is that while the emperor that is native advertising might not be naked, he's almost certainly only wearing a thong," writes Haile.
Often, brands aren't getting what they are paying for when they buy native advertising. They are not getting the attention of the publication's audience. Not by a long shot. And why is it failing? Because native ad content doesn't serve the needs of the publication's audience. If it did, they'd read more of it.
Haile says that some sites-like Gizmodo and Refinery29-optimize both their content and their native ads that their visitors come to their site for. On those sites, native ads do just as well as actual content.
What's the lesson? Should we give up on native advertising? Haile says that native advertising has the potential to be a powerful way to communicate. That it could reach way more people than a brand's homepage ever could. But only if native advertising actually provides information or entertainment that the viewers want. No tricks. Just high quality content.
"Driving traffic to content that no one is reading is a waste of time and money," writes Haile. But creating native ads that people actually want to read could be a gold mine.