Is Native Advertising a Blessing or a Curse?

Is Native Advertising a Blessing or a Curse?

Is Native Advertising a Blessing or a Curse?

Remember banner advertising?

Yeah, we barely do, either. That’s why you are — quite literally! — more likely to complete Navy Seal training or climb Mount Everest than click on a banner ad 1.

Online display advertising has been going the way of the dinosaurs for a long time.  Online publishers still need to make a buck, though, and the way things are heading, it looks like native advertising is where a lot of advertisers are going to be investing in 2014.

Native ads aren’t really new; if you’ve been on BuzzFeed lately you’re probably well aware of this. But native ads made massive strides in 2013, with even Forbes and the New Yorker diving in. And the likelihood is that we’ll see much, much more of this revenue driver in the coming months.

Native advertising is an advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ads look and act like other content but are paid messages.

In other words, sponsored posts imbedded into your Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are considered native ads. So are sponsored articles you find on Huffington Post and Gawker. And sponsored links, which pop up in the bottom of articles with so-called “similar content” are also native ads.

Native Advertising Will Lose Customers

My wife just asked me the other day about what was wrong with CNN. She had read a typical news article, but then noticed a bunch of links on the bottom that all “were completely junk content.”

“I will never go to that site again,” she said later and was pretty upset about it.

She has been reading CNN for 15 years and in an instant became a lost customer.

I explained to her that nobody clicks on banner ads any more. We all just ignore them and this is how sites make money now.

Here is an example of some CNN links that display on the bottom of an article:

CNN related links

Hardly hard-hitting news content there.

So the issue here is that native advertising done well is not entirely and radically different from the rest of your content. CNN has failed their customers here  — all in the name of making money. They are tainting all of the years and hard work done on their brand and image.

But they are not the only ones doing this — as it is quickly becoming the norm.

Here is another example from a San Diego newspaper:

Recommended Articles from San Diego Union Tribune
Recommended Articles from San Diego Union Tribune

I appreciate that these companies need to make money, but there are some serious risks here.

As my wife’s reaction clearly demonstrates, crapping up your site with links to content that is largely of the ilk of the National Enquirer is not good for your brand and may drive away customers. That is unless you are the National Enquirer.

Is this a penny wise, pound foolish proposition?

The concept of native ads is remarkably similar to the trend of product placement in movies and television (that is getting more and more out of hand every day.)

Ron Burgundy To the Rescue

For the past few weeks, I have been flooded with Ron Burgundy sightings. Not just the the ton of ads for the new movie, but Ron Burgundy selling cars for Dodge and last week he was on ESPN in character and did an interview with Peyton Manning.

While watching the interview, I could not help but feel like it was an ad for an upcoming movie — and not true ESPN content. However it is funny and entertaining. So I would cite this as a good example of a win-win, especially considering nearly 4 million YouTube views already.

The Ron Burgundy Dodge advertisements are credited with raising sales by 59% — so clearly that was a huge win!

The opportunities presented by native advertising are tantalizing: After all, instead of relegating marketing messaging to the margins of a page or annoying readers with intrusive pop-ups, advertising is now an element of the editorial content — content marketing at its most imbedded and, not coincidentally, monetized.

The idea is to trade disruptive practices for a seamless, more rewarding consumer experience where the eyeballs already are. It’s proved to be particularly effective for click-throughs and engagement 2.

Hence this year’s flurry of native ad partnerships, products and in-house applications. In practice, these sponsored links and articles range from being obviously branded (like the Washington Post’s “BrandConnect”) to being nearly indistinguishable from legitimate editorial content (like BuzzFeed3.

That is where issues come in. Legal issues, even.

Native advertising can appear so native that the traditional firewall between marketing and unbiased editorial content appears to no longer exist — potentially resulting in consumer deception and raising the specter of Federal Trade Commission regulation if voluntary controls aren’t effective 4.

There are also ranges of quality: the relevance of links and so forth to content surrounding it. Visitors won’t long tolerate or readily forgive brands’ abuse of irrelevant messaging intruding on their reading.

The takeaways? Invest in good sponsored content that provides value and is light-ish on the product tie-ins and branding. Have a clear grasp of the content that works for your brand. And be honest: Make sure readers have fair warning that it’s sponsored.

If you are going to follow along in this trend, tread carefully as the risks may outweigh the gains if done without special care.

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Kevin is the Founder and CEO of TribeBoost.

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