Native advertising is one of the biggest online marketing buzzwords of the past two years. It very well could be the new norm in digital marketing. Native advertising, rather than utilizing banner ads and other similar advertisements, appears more similar to the rest of the content on the page. So what is native advertising, and why are businesses talking about it so much?
What is native advertising?
While advertisers have finally given native advertising a name, it's actually been around for a long time. In 1900, Michelin published a guide for French motorists that included maps and hotel names. David Ogilvy created the Guinness Guide to Oysters that provided a rundown of a number of common oysters (to be swallowed down with a Guinness, of course). Essentially, it's interesting, helpful content that is in line with the other articles you would read on a publisher's website, except it has been placed by a brand.
Many publishers have started to include this type of content on their pages. The Huffington Post developed a specific strategy for native starting about four years ago (1). The publisher creates pages that are sponsored by a specific company, and then curates relevant content for these pages. BuzzFeed has many sponsors that produce content.
Essentially, as readers look through digital content, sponsored content appears along with the original articles. While sponsored content may be identified as an advertisement in some way, for instance through color or brand logo, the articles have the same caliber as the others on the page. The idea is that customers will click on them out of pure interest.
Native content can also be found on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, in the form of paid posts.
Does native have a trust issue?
When native advertising was a new concept, many consumers expressed reservations about having advertisements hiding within the websites they visit. Only 24 percent of readers scrolled down on native ad content (2). Roughly 60 percent of people would still rather have banner ads than native content. People report feeling deceived after reading native content if they discover that it was sponsored by a brand. However, many of these misconceptions evaporate if readers trust the publication they find the sponsored ad on. More than 20 percent also said that if they trust the business already, they have no problem with branded content.
In practice, native ads are easy to identify and there's little subterfuge involved. Sponsored content is often clearly marked. Moreover, brands are putting significant effort into making sure the content they produce is insightful and engaging. All in all, despite trust issues, native advertising seems to be working.
When compared with banner ads, studies tell a different story (3). Readers were more likely to share a native ad than a banner ad. They also report more brand affinity after looking at native ads. While it doesn't look like native will replace banner advertisements any time soon, it does seem as though there's room for businesses to look into native content in addition to digital advertising.
What defines success?
While click-thru rates have been the definition of online success for most of the time that digital marketing has been around, native content may need to be measured differently. Digiday pointed to a native ad from The Laughing Cow, which garnered 20,000 shares, but likely did little to increase brand affinity, since it was just a listicle featuring cute pictures of cows (4). When more people spend time reading a sponsored post, that will be seen as a win. While the engagement rate looks great, the post may not have really done much for the business. What metrics do matter? In many ways, it depends on the campaign. However, it's likely that attention will become a significant metric for native content.
What platforms work
Once you decide to embark on a native advertising campaign, where will you post your content? There are a number of platforms available, from Forbes to more consumer-centric channels like BuzzFeed. While it may be tempting to focus on business publications like Wall Street Journal, it's important to remember that business buyers are consumers too. There's no reason to avoid customer-centered channels completely. For instance, GE's native advertising campaign on BuzzFeed was very successful.
Native advertising will undoubtedly take off more seriously in the next few years. In the mean time, businesses should consider working on native campaigns. Like content marketing, creating native posts can be a time-consuming endeavor. Not only do you truly have to understand the voice of the publication, you also have to create content that customers genuinely want to read.
Native content won't replace traditional online marketing strategies like banner advertisements, but it will supplement them. Will native be the future of marketing? It's hard to say yet, but it will likely play a significant role in budgets.