Native advertising isn’t exactly new, but the trend towards content-based marketing has seen interest in the topic peak in recent months, especially as advertisers seek to engage with consumers on a more personal level. To better integrate with consumer’s lifestyles, advertisers are seeking to ensure that their communication is not only relevant and aspirational but also timely. Native advertising, which seeks to target customers by serving up sponsored content within the context of their online experience, answers this brief perfectly.
And it’s an approach that many advertisers are finding to be highly effective. Evidence so far points to it having better CTR and CR than standard banners, which many people feel have become too intrusive and don’t add any value to their purchasing decision making process. In fact last year Solve Media found that you’d be more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. Given consumers less than amorous feelings towards banner ads, it perhaps isn’t all that surprising that the engaging nature of native advertising is yielding better results.
Neither is the fact that affiliates have been integrating native advertising into their business model for many years. Copy, content or reviews are all a form of native advertising. Whilst there may not be an overt advert, there is a commercial link between the content and the advertiser. It is this blurring of the line between what is editorially and what is commercially driven that represents something of a cross roads for native advertising and just how successful it can continue to be.
Unquestionably when done well native advertising is a very good tool that can help to drive sustainable sales for advertisers. But when done badly there is the potential for brands to experience some serious backlash. If advertisers aren’t clear that the content is commercially motivated, consumers can feel duped and that their trust has been broken. And that is a big no no. Trust is at the heart of the consumer purchasing decision-making process. An individual transacts with a company or brand because they trust them to deliver their goods or service. If an advertiser breaks that trust by not making it clear that the content is paid for then they make well find themselves in trouble.
In traditional media native advertising would be best recognised as advertorials. To avoid any confusion or concern, publications have made it clear that the content is sponsored, yet is designed to be in keeping with the house style. This clear distinction helps the reader to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to read on. As best practice these ‘editorial rules’ need to translate into native advertising as well. Consumers have a right to know that there is a commercial relationship between the advertiser and the publisher.
This isn’t just something that advertisers need to consider, but publishers too. If consumers aren’t sure about which content is editorial and which is commercial, they may well start to use other resources to help with their decision making process. If a publisher’s traffic goes down, so will their ability to engage advertisers and sell advertising space. There is something of a misconception that if content is clearly marked as being from a third party that it will be less ‘sticky’ but this is far from true. The reader has to see value in it, but if it is relevant and provided within the context of the user journey it has as much chance as being read as an editorial article.
What are the next steps?
The opportunities and potential of native advertising are clear for the affiliate channel, especially as affiliate marketing, a microcosm of digital, seeks to help advertisers create more productive relationships with its audiences. To help overcome the challenges associated with native advertising, the IAB has set up a working group across various marketing disciplines in order to define what it is, how it should/could be self regulated, best practice, pitfalls and measurement. The aim is to ensure that advertisers, publishers and consumers all benefit from native advertising by ensuring that it is transparent. This visibility is absolutely essential to its growth as a digital marketing discipline and the creation of good quality, compelling content that helps brands to build value and drive genuine, sustainable revenue.
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