Example of Native Advertising
Native advertising pulled from Guardian.com, 02/05/2014

What Is Native Advertising?

On April 7, Copyblogger released their 2014 State of Native Advertising Report. Based on the responses of over 2,000 people, it gives a great overview of the current attitudes surrounding native advertising.

Don’t know what native advertising is? Don’t worry. According to Copyblogger’s report, neither do 49% of people. Luckily, they went on to provide an exhaustive list of examples.

When introducing the 2014 Report, Demian Farnworth offers a succinct definition. Native advertising, he says, “is paid content that matches a publication’s editorial standards while meeting the audience’s expectations.”

Essentially, then, native advertising refers to an advert that is not immediately recognisable as an advert. When you leaf through the Sunday supplements and come across a text-heavy, well-written article about a wine tasting cruise, only to find a phone number and a list of accepted credit cards at the end? That’s native advertising.

When you’re trawling through your 43rd Buzzfeed list of the night and come across a clip from the Captain Morgan YouTube Channel in the midst of a list of intense historical rivalries? That’s native advertising.

Advertorials, sponsored content, branded content, product placement – these are all examples of native advertising. Some expand the definition to include sponsored posts on Facebook and promoted Tweets on Twitter. In any case, when you encounter an advert or an endorsement where you might not previously have expected to encounter an advert or an endorsement, that’s native advertising.

Native advertising might pass itself off as editorial, as a “suggested website”, as a Facebook post, or as a Tweet. Some might view it as a cynical product of our shallow and vapid times, but as a practice it dates back to at least 1927.

Does Native Advertising Work?

Obviously, brands wouldn’t indulge in native advertising if it wasn’t in some way effective.

One of the most famous examples of native advertising is David Oglivy’s “Guinness Guide To Oysters”, from 1950:

David Oglivy Guinness Guide to Oysters Native Advertising


It’s a guide to oysters.

I don’t particularly like oysters. Or Guinness, for that matter. However, having read that, the connection’s now been made. I cannot shake the notion that there’s nothing better for washing down a salty, succulent oyster than the full-bodied malty goodness of Guinness. Later tonight, I’ll make two extra stops on my way home – the fishmonger and the off-license. I don’t really feel like I have any other choice.

And that’s the power of native advertising. It allows brands to tell a unique story, creating awareness like nothing else. Even when the ad in question has no discernible call to action, who knows how many future sales will arise from simply getting your name out there?

Native advertising also provides a unique opportunity for brands to place their products in a wider context, allowing consumers to make associations that might not otherwise have been made. With the above example, Guinness is suddenly recast as the connoisseur’s choice. The Buzzfeed Captain Morgan relationship identifies Captain Morgan as a brand of rum that’s every bit as swashbuckling as its namesake.

Native advertising can work exceptionally well. As a follow up to their 2014 report, Copyblogger went on to assess the effectiveness of the practice.

When compared to banner ads, native ads deliver a higher lift in brand favourability, a higher lift in purchase intent, and an overall more positive feeling for the consumer.

This following infographic is the fruit of a collaboration between Sharethrough and IPG Labs. A larger version can be viewed here.

Native Advertising Infographic

So when compared to traditional online banner ads, native advertising can prove hugely effective.

Surely, then, this is something you should start doing immediately?

I’m afraid that, as is often the case, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Is Native Advertising Right For My Business?

Businesses should think hard before they consider native advertising.

The main issue is trust. Consider a user’s relationship with a website. They’re only there for the content.

This image, taken from a study by Jan Benway’s and David Lane, demonstrates that users are so invested in content, they’ve learned to simply ignore banners outright. Banners add nothing to the content, so why should users even so much as glance at them? Using a heatmapping technique to track the eye movement of users, we can see that the content receives the vast majority of attention, whilst the banners are essentially ignored.

Banner Blindness

Yet unlike banner ads, native ads often attempt to pass themselves off as content. When the ad is the content, and the content is engaging and shareable, the ad is effective.

But not all brands excel at crafting the sort of native ads that work. Ryan Skinner believes that this might lead to a “tragedy of the commons” situation.  Through clogging up websites with brand-focused content that offers nothing of real value for the user, those who do native advertising badly might well ruin it for everyone.

When they’re not transparent, and when they fail to give a user anything of value beyond a brand message, native ads can cause indelible damage to consumer trust. Having been exposed to far too many tedious brand messages, consumers might become as blind to native advertising as they often are to banner ads.

So Is Native Advertising Worth The Bother?

Personally, I’m sceptical when it comes to native advertising. Not only is it fraught with risks for brands and businesses, but it might also serve to cheapen the online experience for everyone. What happens when the line begins to blur between ads and content? Do the ads get better, or does the content get worse?

Be that as it may, I didn’t write this post to warn brands against embracing native advertising. When done well, native ads can be hugely beneficial for both brands and consumers.

Brands get a unique opportunity to spread awareness and engage with their consumers like never before. Meanwhile, consumers receive a more nuanced and considered experience, which is surely preferable in a world where many ads are essentially obnoxious cries for attention. On top of this, their favourite websites receive a stream of revenue that allows them to continue to produce the sort of content that keeps them coming back.

If this quality content must rub shoulders with “promoted content”, so long as the promoted content is transparent and engaging, who’s complaining?

To sum up, when done badly, native advertising can be irritating for consumers and disastrous for brands. But when done well, everybody wins: Consumers get engaging and shareable content that’s almost indistinguishable from the sort of content they’d consume anyway. Brands, meanwhile, get to tell their story like never before.

For some inspirational examples of how native advertising can work when done well, take a look at this Say Media post. The best examples don’t even look or feel like adverts.

Whether or not that’s a good thing is a discussion for another day.


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