Going Native - How Should Publishers Play the Native Advertising Game?

Native advertising is the phrase of the moment. ‘Native advertising’ is the cure to ‘banner blindness’ (there’s another one everyone is talking about, including us!) but what exactly is it and how do you get it right?

There’s no doubt about it, diminishing investment returns from display advertising means publishers need alternative revenue streams. Whether it’s banner boredom or banner blindness, people just don’t click anymore. Audiences know what they’re looking for, and it’s not the adverts. They want publishers’ great content, they don’t want intrusive or irrelevant sales messages. So if you delineate between content and adverts people go straight to the content and ignore the ads. Which is where native advertising comes in - integrating ads into your audience’s experience of digital publications makes them harder to ignore.

The native advertising dream is to create advertising content that fits seamlessly into a user’s experience. And if it’s well designed and helpful, it can work. Adverts that truly add value to your audience – genuinely relevant products introduced naturally in the context of interesting content – won’t irritate users.

Mashable’s Todd Wasserman suggests that maybe we should just call native advertising “good advertising”. Wasserman sums up the movement like this: “Consumers’ migration to mobile has prompted a do-over in which the dreaded banner ad is being kicked to the curb in favor of messaging that behaves much as other content does.” The important part in that statement is that last part: “much as other content does.” So “good advertising” is really “good content” – where publishers shine.

But native advertising that fakes it -  ads that dress themselves as part of the content but bear no relevancy to what the user is looking for – is dangerous stuff. The potential to annoy your audience with bad native advertising is huge.  Sneaking ads in like wolves in sheep’s clothing can destroy an audience’s trust in your site. Suddenly the experience isn’t all about the community, and shared interests, it’s about you selling to them. At least you know where you are with a banner ad – (thinks your audience )– at least it has the decency to look like an advert. But native advertising which smuggles sales messages into trusted content compromises the integrity of your site.

So native advertising that looks like the real thing but isn’t destroys trust and native advertising that tries and fails to look like the real thing is just as easily skipped as banner ads. Audiences are savvy and time poor. If it’s not what they’re looking for, they’ll skip it. You can’t fool people into reading ads just by copying the site conventions. An ad is an ad is an ad.

The only solution is to integrate advertising that is genuinely helpful to your audience. If it’s not good and it doesn’t add value, don’t give it room on your site.

The answer to how publishers should play the native advertising game? Carefully.

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