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Native Advertising - a beginner's guide...

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We act as if “native advertising” is something new, but the genesis of “native advertising” goes back some time. If you research “native advertising” there are as many articles on why “native advertising” is working as there are on why it is failing.

Truth is there are so many ways and so many platforms “native advertising” can be employed, what works in once place may well fail in another.

Before we leap too far ahead, what is “native advertising”? It is a promotion for a product that relates to where the promotion is appearing and quite often the advertisement will be designed so that it blends in seamlessly, almost to the point of becoming unrecognizable as an advertisement. This is what is causing some people a problem, but it should be said not all people.

For newspapers and magazines determining who was in charge was easy, the editor always had the final decision because the publication was very much his or her vision. It was the editor’s vision that enabled the advertising manager to sell advertisements and circulation staff to sell subscriptions and newsstand copies.  Most editors would try and accommodate ad sales but if there was a conflict, it was a rare occasion indeed when the editorial was spiked in favor of the advertisement – much to many a publishers’ chagrin.

Now that we have expanded the platforms where content is available, web sites and apps to name but a few, it is no longer as clear who is in charge, especially given the fact that publishers and other content providers are trying to make up for the decline in advertising revenue over the last few years.

Print products have the hardest time because compared to other platforms, there is not much you can do. You can do more with the digital version of the magazine, which is why more and more publishers find the digital option attractive.  For example, if you are Vacationer magazine, you can have a full page color advertisement for Hawaii that looks great but basically sits there on the page. There are 3D printing methods and holograms that can make ads more dynamic, but these can also increase costs. In the digital version of Vacationer the same advertisement can include the sounds of waves crashing on the beach while Israel Kamakawiwo'ole sings seductively of his homeland as the ad moves around Hawaii showing fantastic beaches, palm trees, Hawaiian dancers and offers a one-click option to book your trip.

What I just described is not really a “native advert”; it is just an advert – so what would make it a “native advert?” If the advertisement was designed to blend in with the editorial environment around it, in look and feel, to such an extent that it is almost impossible to discern editorial from advertisement. That is when the ad goes “native.” The same goes for a web site. Advertisements designed so they fit in so well that the line between editorial and advertising is virtually impossible to recognize.

So, what is the problem, if indeed there is one with “native advertising”? Some people are concerned, especially with paid products that some advertisements could become part of the editorial, effectively meaning readers are paying the same amount of content, but getting less. Another problem is editorial integrity. Sticking with our Vacationer analogy, what does that magazine do if it wants to run an expose on how bad the beaches of Southern England are, and there is a native advertisement from the English Tourist Board saying how wonderful the beaches of England are, especially in the south? Now lets expand this a step further. The person in charge of the magazine, the editor, may not want to run the ad, but the people who run the website and associated platforms see no problem. Someone is going to end up unhappy. In the past when there was just the print magazine, it would not be the editor. Now, especially with print currently in decline, it could well be the editor is the one with the tear-stained face.

If you charge money for a magazine, either by subscription or at the newsstand, or charge money for people to look at all the good content on your web site, they may well get a tad upset at paying money to view content that has been paid for by the advertiser - no matter the relevance to the viewer.

If you have a free web site but carry too much native advertising, this could diminish the other content on your site and lose you viewers, which in turn means your site is not as responsive for the advertiser as it once was, which in turn means less revenue from that advertiser – if any.

This is why at the outset I noted there are as many articles on why “native advertising” is working as there are on why it is failing. People who pay to view content are less likely to approve of  “native advertising” as those who view content for free. We accept that in order for CBS, ABC and NBC to provide programs they are going to sell advertising, and we accept that because we do not pay for these channels. However HBO, Showtime and other premium channels that we do pay for have to play the commercials down, although more and more advertisements in some form are sneaking in.

The same goes for magazines, paid publications get revenues from various streams, as do controlled publications, although not from subscription revenue. We accept as readers there will probably be less editorial and more advertisements in a free publication, because it is free. Web sites and apps are the same, with many web sites and apps dropping advertisements completely for people who pay for their product. Pandora is commercial-free for those who pay, for those that don’t… those advertisements are not far away.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that “native advertising” is here to stay, and that is probably correct but “native advertising” is not for everyone and is like most things market driven. If you make the wrong decisions concerning “native advertising” you could end up driving your market away quicker than you ever imagined.

I suspect people's response to "native advertising" may also be generational, with the older generation being less in favor than the younger generation, but I have no hard and fast data to prove this. However, when the subject has arisen in the past in discussion, the generational rule certainly seems applicable.