Why are marketers going native with advertising?

Social media redefined the rules of advertising in a way that many in the industry hadn’t predicted until Facebook came on the scene in 2004.

The old interruption model of brand communication – commonly known as ‘advertising’ – was no longer as effective. We were now in a world where consumers shared opinions on social networks irrespective of what a brand wanted to say about its product or service in a carefully crafted ad placed in a highly controlled media environment.

Native Advertising - Furby

This article sponsored by Furby appeared on BuzzFeed just before Halloween.

The days of the display ad looked like they were numbered.

Or were they?

In an attempt to appeal to savvier consumers and hordes of digital divas, the ad men conceived of a new form of advertising in the hope that this would replace the lack of two-way communication that had existed for so long.

And they called it ‘native advertising.’

“Native advertising is paid content that’s designed to look and feel like the environment in which it is placed and that’s what makes it different from a typical display ad. The premise is a native ad should fit so seamlessly within the publisher environment that it could be considered real content,” proffers Euan Mackay, senior associate director at Kantar Media.

This makes it sound like surreptitious advertising by any other name. In the UK, such advertising is subject to a raft of regulations under the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Codes as described in my latest book, Essential Law for Marketers.

However, the appetite to engage in such practices remains undiminished on both sides of the Atlantic.

New research by Hexagram/Spada surveys the attitudes of 1,000 respondents made up of publishers, agencies and brand owners in the US, UK and rest of the world.

Key findings include:

  • Marketing professionals consider a variety of ad content to fall under the category of ‘native advertising’, with the most popular definition being ‘sponsored content’ (53 percent);
  • Most brand owners (56 percent) and ad agencies (50 percent) have a positive view about native advertising. Only 11 percent of both groups have negative views of publishers who offer it.
  • Publishers are driving current use, with 62 percent of publishers currently offering native advertising and another 16 percent planning to do so within the year.
  • Brand owners and ad agencies’ take-up of this new inventory is currently smaller, but growing. 41 percent of brands and 34 percent of agencies currently use native advertising, with an additional 20 percent of brands and 12 percent of agencies planning to begin using it within the year.
  • The most popular forms of native advertising are blog posts (65 percent), articles (63 percent), and Facebook (56 percent).
  • Most publishers (79 percent) clearly label native advertising campaigns to distinguish them from editorial content. The majority of publishers and brands have not received complaints as a result of native advertising campaigns.
  •  The most popular way of indicating ad content is ‘Sponsored’ (64 percent), followed by ‘Brought to you by’ (34 percent) and/or ‘Featured’ (29 percent).

‘Real content’, as any marketing professional know,s isn’t the same as advertising (although Euan Mackay’s view puts a question mark over these long-held distinctions).

Native Advertising - Perceptions

Overall, brands and agencies view native advertising favorably.

It’s now commonly accepted that native advertising includes full length articles and blog posts, videos and photo streams. Promoted tweets and sponsored Facebook stories are perhaps two most notable examples of this craft.

And it’s big business. BIA Kelsey research predicts that spending on native advertising in the US will top $2.4bn (GBP 1.5bn) by the end of the year.

Typically, this form of advertising has come about as consumers don’t like to be overtly sold to. They expect more value in their communications than could be delivered by a traditional display banner or an ad that sits in the middle of an online article.

Recent research by Google found that consumers tend to explore an average of 10.4 different sources of information before making a purchase decision, which Google euphemistically calls the ‘Zero Moment of Truth’ (ZMOT).

As a result, brand owners have started to realize that they need to atomise their marketing content over a much wider range of places and formats if they want to reach desired customer segments.

Given the ethical, moral and even legal obstacles involved with native advertising, a less controversial approach for marketers to take would be the production of branded content that includes articles, white papers, reports, webinars and even mobile apps.

However not everyone agrees with this view. Advocates of native advertising see it as a process of producing content specifically for a third-party publisher and placing it on its site.

As such, they argue native advertising should be part of an overall content strategy – it’s the complementary paid-strategy that brand owners can use in order to widen their reach.

Native Advertising - Future Use

About 40 percent of brands who don’t already use native advertising have no plans to do so in the future.

Okay – you may be attracted to that argument and of course it’s perfectly defendable. But take native advertising a step too far and consumers will feel they are being hoodwinked, just like the bad old days when advertorials in newspapers and magazines masqueraded as ‘editorial’.

Native advertising is therefore reliant on advertisers and publishers striking the right balance.

Sponsored tweets are a form of native advertising but because they stick out like a sore thumb they’re the complete opposite of being ‘native’.

Fundamentally, the issue of the nature of native advertising must come down to the maintenance of trust between the publisher, the advertiser and the consumer.



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