Is native advertising the next big thing?
The potential of native advertising means it is filling the gap between content marketing and traditional advertising.
In the world flooded with all kinds of content, capturing our attention is becoming ever more difficult - the more exposed we are to any type of messages, the more impervious we become to them. This battle for attention is particularly ferociously fought in digital media, as advertisers are looking into novel ways beyond banner ads to reach a tiny segment of the Internet population that is their intended audience.
Could native advertising come to their rescue? And what is native advertising for that matter?
In simple terms, native advertising is a form of marketing which uses commercial content to build trust and engagement with would-be customers. It comes in different forms - from a promoted tweet on Twitter, recommended link on a publisher’s site, or a suggested post on Facebook for instance. However, most commonly it is about the collaboration of brands and online publications, where ads and editorial input are integrated seamlessly for more relevant and targeted content.
Typically, those publications that are pioneering native ads will be extremely scrupulous about the type of the published material and will work with brands and commissioned writers to ensure that the paid content matches the editorial input in quality and style.
Some of the top digital publishers – Buzzfeed, Vice, Quartz – have already included native advertising as central to their business strategy. In January New York Times introduced a new website design, featuring a new native advertising push, with posts clearly labelled "paid post" and bearing a blue line of demarcation. It followed an announcement by Time Inc., last winter that the publisher would dramatically increase the amount of native advertising on its pages.
There is one aspect of native advertising that still causes a fair bit of uncertainty and sometime controversy, and that is the delineation between paid and editorial content. How do we distinguish between what we are reading - a magazine’s own independent writing or a commercial massage? Also, does knowing that the content is paid for make us less likely to read it?
On the first point, intentionally blurring the lines between paid and unpaid content goes counter to both the brand’s and publication’s interests - for publishers who painstakingly build their reputation on trust and integrity, risking it for commercial gains is not an option; equally, if a brand has invested in creating great content, why hide it if it will help connect with consumers and build much needed loyalty?
On the second point, a recent research by IPG media lab showed that native ads that are on-message are viewed for the same amount of time as editorial content. In the highly fragmented and democratised world of Internet - that of YouTube, blogs, twitters, and countless social media sites - it is always the relevance and originality of content, rather than who is behind it, that has the final say in how much it is viewed, shared and commented on. To prosper, native ads have to behave in exactly the same way, sharing the same topicality and creativity as most successful of social media.
What does the industry say?
A recent survey conducted by Hexagram, a London-based media agency asked over 35,000 of their contacts - publishers, brands and advertising agencies – on their views on native advertising.
A large majority of all interviewed (over 80%) believed that native advertising adds value for consumers when executed with sensitivity and integrity. Only around 11% of respondents had negative perceptions of native ads, and most of those were publishers and agencies with limited exposure to native ads.
The click-through rates also favour native advertising. A recent native advertising test by Hearst within Harper's Bazaar led to a click-through rate 10 times higher than online banner ads.
What next for native advertising?
Successful native advertising is much more than a thinly guised PR or glossy corporate talk cloaked in editorial. A great native ad is in synch with the consumer and it acts like one. It always asks itself the fundamental questions: Is this something I would click on; is this the content I would share? It taps into the stories that hold a real interest to the audience, and provides them with an insight and value that extend beyond the brand message. It works seamlessly with the surrounding editorial, but it doesn’t pretend to be part of it. Its real strength is its relevance and topicality, and in such context brand endorsement doesn’t need to hide behind the editorial, and is happy to own a great content it has generated.
Switching gears from self-serving ads to compelling messages worth consuming and sharing is the future of all advertising. In the evolving media mix could it be that native advertising, that cleverly blends the world of content and ads, will have the last say in how brands connect with their audiences?
The Sphere Team