Part I: Introduction to Native Advertising
What is Native Advertising?
Now that is a tricky question! Despite its’ increasing popularity and use over the past few years, native advertising remains one of the most ambiguous and controversial marketing terms. First of all it still lacks an official definition. One can find a plethora of terms used to describe native content such as: corporate journalism, brand-published sponsored content, ads blended with editorial content and so much more that can be far from accurate. So native advertising basically refers to any paid content (e.g. article, infographic, video) that blends in the flow of a publisher’s content and looks like an organic piece of the publisher’s website.
According to Google trends, interest in native advertising follows quite similar pattern both in the US and in the UK. For both countries there has been an increase in interest during the last two years which peaks towards the end of summer 2014 after comedian John Oliver had a good rant about how Native Advertising was a threat to the editorial independence of newsrooms, misleading readers and eroding trust, on live television to a US audience on the mainstream HBO channel. At this point it became a mainstream conversation that had breached the confines of press rooms and digital marketing departments and the elephant in the room had finally been brought to light.
Using Google Trends we can also see that conversations and media posts about ‘Native’ first took place in the US and the UK followed slightly later, indicating that the US was the trend setter for the growth of native advertising.
USA: Interest over time
UK: Interest over time
According to a US study by Copyblogger, 73% of marketers are still clueless to what native advertising is. The truth is that native content comes in all shapes and sizes and that in itself can be confusing. We all have come across numerous examples: sponsored stories on social media, recommended blog posts and links, sponsored Spotify playlists. Even paid search ads are in essence native content as they are designed to closely resemble organic results; search engines weren’t exactly queuing up to make it crystal clear that those listings at the top of their results pages were ads.
However what native advertising is; may easily change depending on the definition that you choose and the way you interpret it; for example, some claim that social media platforms are not publishers therefore sponsored stories on social media are not native ads… I’m taking that one with a pinch of salt!
So what’s the difference between a traditional advert and the advertising seen on a native ad? It is meant to be of a more educational nature and to have some kind of value for the user. Undoubtedly, it doesn’t interrupt the flow of organic content in a way that pop ups do for example. This changes everything for advertisers and creative teams, that until now, were trying to make their ads stand out – now they have to blend in. The key to achieving this is relevancy. Native content is content that visitors of a particular website are expecting to find there.
Why use it?
In a recent survey published by IPG (the Independent Publishers Guild) it was found that users engage 53% more with native ads than with display ads, while 23% of the responders would be willing to share the native content. In comparison, sharing a banner ad with your friends has never been a regular past time. So what native advertising offers compared to traditional display advertising is a higher degree of consumer engagement. A piece of native content could go viral on a global scale without adding any additional cost for the advertiser in terms of CPCs. At the same time it should allow advertisers to give their ads a sparkle of editorial trustworthiness.
Apart from the aforementioned benefits, its extensive use is gradually turning it to a mainstream service, especially for advertising agencies. According to Far Partners report; 83% of agencies In the UK offer display advertising services while the remaining 17% states that they are planning to do in the near future. It is also predicted that in 2015 native advertising will account for 15% of display spend – now being at 9.25%. Therefore another consideration for using Native advertising is simply in order not to be left behind, if your competitors are using this advertising space and it works for them, then can you afford not to?
But use it with caution!
Native advertising might be a current marketing buzzword but ambiguity and uncertainty still follows it; today making it the hot potato’ of digital marketing in 2015. As mentioned, native content is designed to blend in; to appear organic, but it isn’t!, therefore it’s easy to understand why ethical issues are raised. Coming back to Copyblogger’s survey, whilst looking over a full range of native ads, only 23% of the respondents were able to identify native content on each occasion they saw one.
So what can advertisers do to manage the expectations of the audience whist avoiding damaging their clients’ image? The obvious solution is to clearly label native advertising content as sponsored or promoted. And by that we don’t mean a single, small, barely readable word, but having a clear separate section which includes the advertiser’s brand name as well.
They should also give serious consideration to their choice of headlines and photos. In its early days, advertisers would do anything for a click, which meant a lot of exaggeration in their claims and far too many photographs of cute kittens. Promises that are too good to be true such as “Find out how to earn £2000 in a day” are probably misleading and contribute to the negative criticism that it may have received.
What is encouraging is that many publishers are beginning to look beyond easy advertising money and have started to develop policies regarding their 3rd party content as they are becoming more reliant in new financial streams yet more aware that losing consumers’ trust will be catastrophic in the long term.
How is it measured?
Until now there are no specific metric tools used for native advertising. The results are measured in the ‘traditional’ paid media way, CPC and CPM being the most widely used, usually combined with other ways of measuring consumer engagement such as views, downloads etc. What is apparent is that native advertising can successfully attribute to final conversions.
Although due to its engaging nature it works better for brand awareness with the appropriate calls to action on a landing page, it can drive conversions. In many cases a lot of experimentation with different landing pages and call to actions will be needed until you figure out what works best for your brand and the publishers you choose to advertise with. After all, this is meant be NATIVE advertising.
In the same way that internet users have developed ‘banner blindness’ from their constant exposure to display ads, they are expected to gradually develop ‘native blindness’ as well. As with all marketing trends, native advertising is expect to evolve and adapt to user behaviour. Some of the trends that we are to see in the near future are: native ads for mobile, in-video native ads and a combination of native advertising with programmatic. Let’s face it, how long do you think it will be before the ‘content’ we see is based on user interests, our browsing history and how much an advertiser is willing to pay for that relevant content exposure? I give it until the end of the year.