"Native Advertising" is the latest, greatest buzz-phrase in the world of online marketing. Everyone wants in on it and everyone's keen on espousing the virtues of it. The problem is that no one's entirely clear on exactly what it is.
Let's see if we can't change that. Today's focus is going to be on sifting through some of the hearsay surrounding the term. In the process, we'll take a look at what makes a good native ad - and what practices you should avoid like the plague.
What Is A Native Ad?
The first thing we need to establish about native advertising is that it's something of a dangerous tightrope to walk - both for advertisers and for the websites they do business with. See, at its core, native advertising is about selling to a reader without interrupting their enjoyment of a site's content. It's about designing an ad that gets its message across without being terribly intrusive, invasive, or obnoxious.
In short, a native ad is one that fits seamlessly with the design of a page. It's well-integrated into the content on that page, and offers real value to the readers. At the same time, it doesn't try to hide the fact that it's an advertisement - with a good native ad, it's still clear that someone's trying to sell you something.
Unfortunately, this is where a lot of advertisers stumble - and where a great deal of the controversy surrounding native advertising tends to surface.
The Problem With Camouflaged Advertising
"The heart of the matter," explains imediaconnection's David U. Simon, "is that consumers sometimes can't distinguish between editorial journalism and paid advertising. Consumers are smart, yes, but the use of native requires that advertisers practice ethical advertising, employing some self-imposed rules and considerations that may not come into play with other ad types."
What Simon's trying to say here is that bad native ads - the worst of them, as a matter of fact - cannot be clearly identified as advertising. Rather than disclosing its status to the consumer, a poorly-made native ad goes out of its way to camouflage itself; it makes a point of misleading the reader. Such an ad might receive plenty of clicks, but that doesn't mean it's successful - I can all but guarantee few (if any) of the people who clicked through a camouflaged ad ended up purchasing anything - most of them probably felt frustrated and betrayed.
Native Ads vs Sponsored Content
Now, at this point, a few of you have probably noted that native advertising sounds suspiciously similar to sponsored content. After all, both are designed to be unobtrusive, both are designed to fit with the user experience, and both are intended to not look like your run-of-the-mill banner ad. What's the difference?
According to Reuters' Felix Salmon (as quoted by Tony Hallet of The Guardian), "native content tends to aspire more to going viral." Native ads are designed to be shareable; they're made to be relevant, interesting, and contextual. That's not the only thing that differentiates the two, either - native ads are, as a general rule, designed to be displayed on a particular type of device (or to scale based on the device a user's viewing them with). Sponsored content, meanwhile, doesn't really distinguish device - it simply exists.
Makes sense, right?
It's Time To Go Native
Although the term "native advertising" is most certainly a buzz-phrase, the marketing strategy it represents definitely holds value. Designing unobtrusive advertising content that not only scales by device but offers something genuinely interesting or entertaining to the user is something every advertising professional should aspire to. If only more did - maybe then, Internet ads wouldn't have the bad rap they do these days.
Image credit: Jeff Kubina