Native Advertising: a curse or a blessing?
A two-day conference on Native Advertising? Are you serious?? That was pretty much my first reaction when I received an invitation to the ‘Native Advertising Days 2015’ conference in Copenhagen (19th and 20th October 2015). My surprise was even greater when I found out that the invitation had come from a genuine ‘Native Advertising Institute’.
The list of speakers was ambitious, too, featuring international names such as Stephanie Losee (Branded Content Director, Politico), Liz McDonnell (Director of Marketing, NY Times), Jaime Stephens Pham (Content Marketing and Social Media Consultant, LinkedIn), Nora Ziegenhagen (Head of Branding Solutions, Google), Mary Gail Pezzimenti (VP of Content Creation, The Huffington Post) and Newell Thompson (VP Content Marketing & Strategies, Time Inc.).
Straight away, I could see the common thread running through the whole conference: publishers, both the more traditional and the new, somewhat hipper, 100% online players, that had ‘discovered’ that Native Advertising was the modern way of advertising and were now trying to establish it as a separate discipline.
Why native advertising?
All of the oft-quoted reasons behind the success of native advertising are 100% correct and were made frequent use of by content marketers at the conference:
- banners that don’t work any more (I heard at least 5 speakers repeat the mantra that “You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than to click on a banner ad”);
- pre-roll advertising that makes consumers twitchy;
- ad-blocking software that will soon be used by most people;
- email engagement rates that are going through the floor;
- etc., etc., etc.
In fact, it can all be summarised as follows: the endgame for ‘interruption-based’ advertising is truly upon us. Traditional advertising is increasingly ineffective, and so advertising-dependent publishers are seeking new sources of income.
And yet, no matter how hard the conference tried to establish native advertising as a new and separate form of marketing, all the examples given continued to be in-content packaged ads.
Some of them were clearly well done (Fedex and SAP in Forbes, Netflix in the NY Times), and some of them achieved great results. Others, however, seriously misfired, like the Scientology example presented with touching honesty by Sam Rosen of The Atlantic.
The silver lining to this disaster, Rosen explained, was that The Atlantic now has probably the clearest and fairest policy when it comes to native advertising. You can read more about this debacle and its consequences here.
Other speakers, too, told of their most frequent mistakes in this relatively new field. I noted the following:
- straying too far from the editorial code in your medium;
- not being clear about the ‘sponsor’ of your article;
- not being critical enough about the quality;
- not thinking enough about the reader;
- using the word ‘advertorial’ (i.e. do not use it, but sadly none of the speakers was able to provide a top-notch alternative).
An additional – paid-for – distribution channel
It is interesting to see how the industry players are trying to sell their advertising space in a new way. It is interesting to see how ambitious they are in doing so, and to what extent they are creating an additional business for themselves (“We will only accept native advertising content if we can create it ourselves”).
It is also interesting to see how this will nonetheless remain paid media (as a brand, you will continue to use an external distribution channel, instead of your own, and you therefore remain dependent on that channel).
For true content marketers, however, it is certainly also interesting to explore the possibility of a new way of distributing content that has already been created by the content agency.
Caution still the order of the day
The fact that native advertising is not entirely without risk in terms of credibility and consumer confidence can be seen from the (highly comprehensive) research from Contently. Readers are often confused about the source of an article and feel ‘cheated’ if it turns out to be a sponsored article. The solution? Clearly indicate where content is sponsored and – above all – think very hard about a better way to handle native advertising.
We will finish with this video from the makers of South Park – who are clearly no fans of native advertising…