This is Part 3 of my 3-part series on Native Advertising. Check out Part 1: Native Ads & Social Media and Part 2: Native Advertising: Bridging the Gap Between Content, Social & SEO
As is the case with any new method, Native advertising abounds with skeptics. When the worlds of web content and advertising collide, transparency becomes a considerable issue. And without an updated universal set of success metrics to measure performance, native advertising is still a leap of faith for most brands.
Is Native Advertising Ethical?
First up, ethics. Are native ads deceptive to the point where they could be considered unethical? According to a recent report released by the Association of National Advertisers, disclosure and ethics are central issues and “two-thirds of respondents agree that native advertising needs clear disclosure that it is indeed advertising”. Even further, what counts as honesty?
Is Labeling Native Ads Enough?
Is it enough to add a timid “paid post” or “sponsored content” blurb next to the content? The jury is still out. Social media sites and most major publications have adapted clear labeling to ensure total transparency. On other platforms, however, the lines are still blurred – which is one of the biggest reasons marketers may choose to steer clear of this new trend on while it’s still in a developing phase.
But, Effective Native Ads Look Like Regular Site Content
The other roadblock with transparency in native ads is that brands want them to look and feel as much like regular content as possible. The moment people feel they’re being marketed to, a certain level of trust diminishes. To encourage engagement and avoid tarnishing their reputation in any way, brands must ensure that native ads provide substantial value to the consumer. In a nutshell, consumers should be able to tell the “content” (ad) they’re clicking on is promoted content and still want to click because it’s relevant and intriguing.
Some Examples of Native Ads with Labels
(click for larger)
Is Native Advertising Measurable?
Another issue at hand is the measurement of native advertising. How does Chips Ahoy prove that their “Ode to Chocolate” Buzzfeed article had a positive impact on brand awareness or drove more sales? Well, they don’t, really — not yet at least. With different goals than regular advertising, native will require a new and more relevant set of metrics that help marketers determine the effectiveness and ROI. Traditional digital marketing relies heavily on metrics like CTR, but brand affinity and purchase intent will play an important role in determining the success of native ads.
Does Native Advertising Erode Trust in the Publisher?
Definitive evidence that consumers’ trust does not diminish as a result of native ads will also be important in attracting more advertiser dollars. Because if there’s one thing people hate more than ads, it’s being duped by an ad that they thought was content. Publishers will have to play a big role in native advertising on their site and be stewards of the experience and advocates for users.
In a 2014 study by Contently, two-thirds of readers reported feeling deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand. This is where other forms of measurement will become important, such as bounce rate and whether or not the user actually scrolled once landing on the content.
Native Advertising is Expensive
Native advertising also demands a lot more time and resources than traditional advertising. Creating content that fits the publishing site and ultimately delivers a positive ROAS (however that is determined) is certainly not a one-man production.
Buzzfeed, the king of native advertising, has a team of 70+ people dedicated to creating its notoriously compelling content. Pioneers in the native advertising space are more likely to be Fortune 500 companies than not, simply because they can justify budget to hire avant-garde publishers and advertisers that work together on these campaigns. Larger companies also typically have a solid reputation and can afford to be first-movers in this space.
The Future of Native Advertising
Have no fear, the future of native advertising is almost here. There are several kinks that need to be ironed out before native advertising goes completely mainstream, but its certainly on its way. To further evolve, native advertising will require a universal set of guidelines, regulations, and measurement tactics at the very least. The industry knows this all too well. In February, the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced their initiative to implement guidelines aimed at driving transparency. The overarching goal is to provide meaningful disclosure in native advertising as it continues to become more pivotal in the digital marketing mix.
Native advertising is a new breed and will require adaptivity to continue to bridge the gap between multiple marketing disciplines. When content shares the throne with context, great things can happen!