No debate about native advertising — great content still wins

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The great debate among media, advertising and marketing professionals continues: Is native advertising a strong strategy?

How you answer that question usually depends on where you ply your trade. The question has different meanings to different industries. Are native ads a threat? A trick? An opportunity? The future? Is it even fresh thinking or just an age-old tactic varnished with a new coat of paint?

Right now they are a big deal. Advertising Age reports that at the New York Times, its native advertising product Paid Posts drove a 16.5% increase in digital-ad revenue during its most recent quarter. Sponsored posts are driving social media ad sales, too. LinkedIn’s sponsored updates accounts for 31% of its $109 million in ad revenue in its third quarter, up from 7% a year earlier, while two-thirds of Facebook’s $2.96 billion in ad sales came from mobile, where ads appear as sponsored posts in the news feed. Twitter’s ad revenue jumped 109% to $320 million in its most recent quarter.

But will they continue to work for both brands and digital publishers?

Old game, new tricks

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Native Advertising Playbook defines it as “[delivering] paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.” The guide describes six categories, including In-Feed, Paid Search, Recommendation Widgets and Promoted Listings. The broad term “sponsored content” also falls under this definition.

But the idea that a corporation or brand will create some form of content and pay to have it placed in a certain manner within a media product is not new. Two things influence native advertising: the new types of content brands are creating, and the new ways media organizations are presenting that content.

Giving audiences what they want

Let’s start with the media companies. Whether it’s the New York Times or Twitter, they are all desperate for both ad revenue and audiences. It is a crowded market. They need to make careful choices about what paid content they accept, and how they label it.

What will their audiences accept? It’s a fine balance, and likely different for each media outlet. Their audiences and the trusting relationships they’ve forged with them are unique and valuable — that’s why a brand pays to access it — and must not be squandered.

Media organizations must evaluate how well they really know their audience. What interests them? Why do they choose the media they do? These are hard questions, but essential. In the turmoil of falling ad rates, it can easy for media organizations to undermine their real value and sell out their own mission.

However, when done right, ads or corporate content can be part of the overall media product and experience. Do it wrong, and you’re just getting in the way and damaging their trust.

If media organizations want native ads to work, they need to get smarter about their own audiences and encourage advertisers to create the kind of content that will authentically engage them. Otherwise they are not offering value to their audiences, they are only trading on their trust.

Content first

For brands, the issues are simpler. Native advertising or sponsored content in any type of media organization or platform like Outbrain or Taboola could be another tool for amplifying your content. Like anything, you should evaluate and measure its effectiveness against its cost and what other options are available to you, including more organic ways to engage target audiences. Just because you bought ads before doesn’t mean you should buy native ads now.

One way or another, though, you first need to have quality content. Legitimately informative and entertaining content that is relevant to a certain audience will stand on its own. When brands and marketing agencies do their jobs right, it doesn’t matter if a media organization labels it “sponsored content” and alters its presentation to distinguish it from editorial content. It’s interesting for its own sake.

No tricksters allowed

No one likes a fraud. Tricking audiences into thinking content is something it’s not is a bad practice and won’t last. No one will buy from you if they don’t trust you. But native advertising does not need to be about tricking audiences. In fact, it should be about greater transparency — on the part of the media organizations, and most importantly, the content that brands produce.

As AdAge recently quoted Peter Mimmium, the IAB’s head of brand initiatives,  “Content advertising is not a fad. It’s actually a core part of the maturation of digital advertising.”

There are certainly signs of growing pains right now. Is your organization mature enough to create transparent, relevant content?

 

Photo via TheAtlantic.com screenshot

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Andrew Wahl

Andrew Wahl

Senior Content Strategist at Dash Digital Group
Toronto-area writer, editor and digital marketer who creates content with Dash Digital Group. Former senior writer and columnist with Canadian Business magazine.
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