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Native Advertising: Effective or Deceptive?

Native advertisingNative advertising: good or bad?

As the hype surrounding native advertising continues to build, many marketers have started to ask themselves this question. Native advertising, or contextual advertising that is so interwoven into the user experience that it often goes unnoticed, has been both praised for its high effectiveness and criticized for its deceptiveness.

Many consumers have a hard time pinpointing the last time they saw a native ad. Think back to the last promoted tweet you saw on Twitter, or the last time you browsed an advertorial or clicked on a “you might also be interested in” link that took you to a sponsored piece of content on a site. These are all examples of native advertisements, and are purposefully disguised so that they blend in with the user experience of the site. This increases click-through rates and engagement of the ads by downplaying the fact that they are, in fact, ads.

Native Advertising and Content Marketing

Native advertising has started to worm its way into content marketing strategies as marketers begin to catch on to success of these ads. When used correctly, native advertising allows marketers to piggyback off of other brands’ reputations by placing their own content side by side with another brand’s popular content. This gives them the opportunity to tap into a new, engaged audience.

This technique is especially helpful for brands that have yet to build up an audience for their content. By placing their articles, videos, and other content next to a related article on another site, marketers can enjoy benefits like increased traffic, better engagement, and a bump in social sharing.

What’s the Harm?

With so many benefits to native advertising, marketers are often left wondering what could go wrong. The answer is: quite a few things. Unfortunately, the greatest strength of native advertising is also its biggest drawback. With the ads so cleverly integrated into the user experience, consumers unknowingly click on them with the expectation that they will take them to similar content created by the site owners. Even though some articles and videos that are natively advertised are marked with a “sponsored” or “promoted” badge, consumers often feel deceived when they realize that they’ve click on an advertisement and not a regular link.

Marketers (and publishers) using native advertising techniques also run the risk of incurring negative feedback if the sponsored or promoted content isn’t properly aligned with the publisher’s brand. Let’s take the popular example of The Atlantic and the natively-advertised article about the Church of Scientology. While the Church of Scientology article was marked as promoted content on The Atlantic’s site, it quickly got picked up by viewers and spread across the internet alongside some very heated messages. Even though The Atlantic was aware of the controversial nature of the article before publication, they didn’t anticipate the widespread backlash that would appear after posting it. Shortly thereafter, the Scientology article was removed from their site.

How to Do It Right

If you want to take advantage of the benefits of native advertising and avoid an episode like the Atlantic-Scientology debacle of 2013, take a look at a few tips below:

  • Make sure that your ideas are aligned with your publisher’s and that you are promoting the same message. Not only are you protecting your reputation by doing this, you’re also protecting the reputation of your publisher, helping to ensure that your relationship lasts.

  • Clearly mark your advertisements with “advertorial,” “sponsored,” or “promoted” so that viewers don’t feel deceived when they realize that they’re reading someone else’s content.

  • Don’t sell yourself. Native advertising isn’t about selling your product. It’s a form of content marketing, which means it should offer helpful information aimed toward the consumer. This means advertising things like informative blog articles, case studies, or white papers  — basically, content with inherent value.

  • Always keep your consumer in mind. When you create your ad, think of how your consumers will feel when they see it. This should help you gauge whether or not your ad is intrusive, too sales-y, or just right. If you think it looks deceptive, then it probably is.

What are your thoughts on native advertising? Is it harmful or worth pursuing? Let us know in the comments!