Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Great Native Advertising Debate

The debate on native advertising is, like native advertising, multifaceted. Even without fulling grasping what it is, people are debating if it useful for digital marketers. Let's take it step by step.

What is Native Advertising?

DigiDay posed this question to some digital execs. The responses are riddled with industry terms, like organic, monetization and ad units. Even worse, some used the word native in describing it; that would be an automatic DQ in Catchphrase.  However, I thought Ben Kunz’s response was wonderful. He says, “The intent is to have a paid message break out of the advertising clutter in a new way, by elevating it to appear like the real unbiased content users are seeking.” I think this is excellent because it covers native advertising on both social platforms and digital publications.

On Social Media

On social media, native advertising comes in the form of sponsored stories and promoted posts/tweets. This content is just like any other content a user would post to the platform/medium, except that the content owner PAID (so now we consider them an advertiser) to reach a larger audience.  

In a Spin Sucks article Gini Dietrich used an example of an Instagram campaign where users tagged photos of Jay Peak ski resort to #jaypeakresort. User-generated content is NOT native advertising. That is earned media. Initially, I thought that if a business had paid users to post the "user-generated" content that could be, but after analyzing more for this post, I decided that is still not native advertising. The native aspect means it, as Kunz explained, must appear like the content users are seeking on that platform. Because the medium is the one that controls the way content is displayed (and thus can be the one to manipulate it), they must be the one selling the native advertising. In the Jay Peak’s example, it would only be native advertising if Jay Peak paid Instagram to show photos tagged with #jaypeakresort higher on feeds (not just chronologically) for other similar tags, such as #ski and #snow. (Instagram, five percent of all profits from this new revenue-generating plan is a great way to say thank you.)

On Digital Publications

Digital publications’ native advertising is an advertorial. I’m sure you’ve seen them in magazines. An article about how a brand name pharmaceutical helped someone get their life back on track. It appears like a human interest piece, except that somewhere it must identify that it is paid content. Rather than the publication (the medium) selling reach, they are selling the space that appears like the content the user is seeking—articles in this case.

Is Native Advertising Deceptive?

For social media, native advertising is always clearly marked as a sponsored story or promoted tweet, so I don’t think it is deceptive in that aspect.  In the Facebook example image above, using a user's name walks a fine line, but Facebook offers you the option to opt out of being used in ads. As for digital publication’s native advertising, The Atlantic got some heat following a sponsored article from The Church of Scientology. It was marked as Sponsor Content at the top,just as an advertorial in a print publication would. However, the comments section seemed to be the rough spot for this native advertising. Would it be less deceptive if comments were turned off and another notice indicating that it is an ad (thus no comments necessary) replaced the usual comment box? 

Does Native Advertising Work?

As Dietrich said in her article,  nearly everyone knows how to “click past banner ads, watch the required five seconds of an ad before skipping it to go on to a video, click out of pop-up ads, and fast forward through commercials during television programs.” But having your ads appear where the audience is “listening” doesn’t necessarily mean they will attune to it. For instance, Pepto Bismol ads on my Facebook news feed are incredibly disruptive. This could be because the content choice for the medium was bad or just the wrong medium altogether. Using Pepto Bismol, let’s see how both of these matter in using native advertising.

Choosing the right content

Their picture of a big ol’ bottle of the pink stuff on my Facebook newsfeed turns me off, because I see it for what it is, an ad. A picture of an empty pizza box and someone holding their stomach may have pulled me in. My friends post status updates about their latest food conquests, so sharing similar content makes sense.

Choosing the right medium

Had I been on WebMD reading up on symptoms of heartburn, a sponsored article about Pepto Bismol treating heartburn would definitely be relevant. Seeing that big ol’ bottle of the pink stuff would almost be comforting to me in that medium.

Now that you know more about what native advertising is and how it works, will you try it?

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