Marketers are always looking for what’s next. It’s one of our biggest strengths, but it can also be our fatal flaw. The problem comes when no one wants to be left behind, yet they don’t actually stop to think about the correct strategy, approach and application. This is where native advertising as we know it begins to come unraveled.
Native advertising is not exactly new, but as its popularity grows, so does the controversy that surrounds it.
What is native advertising?
“Native advertising is a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears. The word “native” refers to the content’s coherence with other media on the platform.”1
But it’s much more than just advertising that fits in with it’s surrounding, it completely blends in with its surroundings. As the IAB states: “It is clear that most advertisers and publishers aspire to deliver 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.”2
Problem #1: People don’t like being played—especially by those they trust
Native advertising on Buzzfeed is very different than native advertising on Time’s website. There’s a level of integrity that is vital to journalism. As newspapers and magazines are struggling to hold on to readers, the last thing they should be doing is taking such liberties with perhaps the one thing they have over newer, flashier “entertainment news” websites—a history of trust with the reader.
60% of people said it’s unclear when content is paid for by a brand—and it’s not because they’re dumb.3 This type of content typically comes with a line of copy identifying it as “Sponsored Content” or a similar phrase. But let’s be honest: that’s not obvious enough for most people to take notice. If a small callout was enough to catch everyone’s attention, we wouldn’t even be talking about native advertising, because we’d all still be busy creating banner ads.
In John Oliver’s recent rant about native advertising, what stood out to me the most were these words from Ken Auletta, contributor to The New Yorker: “Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise, we will camouflage your ads to make them look like news stories. That’s essentially it.”
Well, no, I’d say that’s essentially the problem. Because if everyone involved in the content creation is doing as little as possible to make the consumer aware the content has been paid for, you’re starting to mess with the whole premise of journalism and you’re deceiving your audience. Not exactly a desired move if you’re trying to build up your brand. Especially because, as rants like John Oliver’s become more mainstream, people are going to start to understand what native advertising is, they’ll recognize it when they find it and they’ll see they were…well, kind of being played.
If we’re going to do native advertising on news sites right, it needs to be really, smack-you-over-the-head obvious that it’s paid content. Then the reader can choose if they want to read or trust it. But maybe publishers just don’t want readers to know content is paid, because they already know people don’t like it: only 27% of people think it adds any value to a news site.3
So why the native ad push?
Quite simply, it’s a lucrative choice for an industry that’s been struggling to create new revenue streams. Native ad spending in 2013 was $1.3 billion and that number is projected to rise to $9.4 billion by 2018.4 It seems that publishers just can’t say no to stepping further and further down this slippery slope, and brands haven’t figured out that they should step back and think about what they’re doing before they jump on the native bandwagon (did we learn nothing from QR codes?)
Very few are stepping back to ask how and when and where and why this all might make sense in order to do native advertising well.
Problem #2: Brands don’t benefit
Let’s pretend that brands can get their act together to approach native advertising in a smart, strategic and honest way…should they? If brands develop great content—or pay for it to be developed—but it lives on the publisher’s site, they’re missing the benefit of building an audience.
And they’re not even building their brand. In the words of Ad Age columist Simon Dumenco, “The more a brand dresses in the particular editorial drag of the site it’s advertising on, the less I get what the brand stands for.”
This is all exacerbated by the fact that brands are hiding behind the content. Where’s the benefit for them? When The New York Times wrote that great piece about female inmates—an article sponsored by Orange Is The New Black—did that stick in the minds of the audience as a great reflection on HBO, or simply a great piece by the Times?
Even though the NYT format for this piece made the sponsorship more obvious than most (check out the blue bar at the top that says “Paid Post”, the Netflix and Orange is the New Black logos, the BrandStudio logo and the paid post appendage to the URL), I still don’t think the average person notices or understands the connection (and the stats support that thought).
Native advertising has problems. Content marketing has solutions.
The reasons I love content marketing so much are exactly the reasons why native advertising makes me cringe. With native advertising, you might be creating great content, but you’re not owning your audience, generating web traffic, boosting your SEO or even building your brand in the minds of your audience. Remember, the audience probably doesn’t even know it’s you. With native advertising, you are producing content, but you are not content marketing.
Isn’t it kind of sad to see all that content go to waste?
If you want to script a story that will build your brand, connect with your audience, boost your SEO and be yours (all yours!), contact us about our Script Your Story sessions.
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