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Native Advertising: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing Or A New Path To Redemption?

Native advertising is currently the subject of much discussion between network and media professionals. Can contemporary news sites afford to ignore this sales and readership source? Or should they hold back because sponsored content can mislead readers and violate the Press Code?

Just imagine you have cut your thumb chopping onions. Having applied first aid, you then search the Internet for ways to promote wound healing. You visit a trusted health site, and after some time, you discover a post that not only gives a good account of how the healing process works but also lists the available remedies. You're very pleased and want to rush to the pharmacy to buy this top recommendation from the article. Just as you are about to close your browser, you spot the words "sponsored post.” Checking more closely, you see the article was written by the editorial staff of the multinational corporation that manufactures the recommended ointment.

Are you happy that an expert has given you a valuable tip? Or has this post suddenly left a bad taste?

Native advertising is currently the subject of much discussion between network and media professionals. Can contemporary news sites afford to ignore this sales and readership source? Or should they hold back because sponsored content can mislead readers and violate the Press Code?

Just imagine you have cut your thumb chopping onions. Having applied first aid, you then search the Internet for ways to promote wound healing. You visit a trusted health site, and after some time, you discover a post that not only gives a good account of how the healing process works but also lists the available remedies. You're very pleased and want to rush to the pharmacy to buy this top recommendation from the article. Just as you are about to close your browser, you spot the words "sponsored post.” Checking more closely, you see the article was written by the editorial staff of the multinational corporation that manufactures the recommended ointment.

Are you happy that an expert has given you a valuable tip? Or has this post suddenly left a bad taste?

The delicate balance between appropriate content and disguised advertising

Native advertising has become the latest buzzword, and such ssponsored articles raise not just hopes of new revenue opportunities and satisfied news-site visitors but also fears about the credibility of media companies.

Native ads consist of content carefully designed to promote a business or one of its products. They are embedded in a news site to blend into the page design and layout, and, at first glance, are difficult to distinguish from editorial articles. These advertisers seek to mask the visual break between a website's content and advertising, thereby gaining extra reader attention. However, native advertising posts don't advertise using a message-board approach, like banners, but instead provide helpful and interesting content, which the user readily absorbs.

A Content Marketing Institute survey found that 34 percent of online B2B marketers already use native ads in communications, and 36 percent confirm its effectiveness. The advantages are obvious:

  • Native ads are much more useful to the user and less disruptive than the usual banner advertising. Individuals benefit from posts with additional information or entertaining content that is normally customized to the individual’s needs and interests.
  • This content is usually embedded in a thematically appropriate environment – for example, besides a “real” editorial article about a financial issue, there may be a native ad with a similar focal point. Thus native ads are simply intended to provide additional information on topics that are already of interest.
  • For advertisers, native ads provide a fruitful means of advertising that overcomes banner blindness, apathy and lack of click conversions. According to many experts, click-through rates for native ads are many times higher than those for traditional advertising, and studies confirm consumer acceptance and memory are also significantly better. And on mobile devices, where banner advertising is impractical on small screens, well-positioned native advertising has proven to be an excellent alternative for advertisers.
  • A native ad offers a company much more space than a simple advertisement, so they can promote their subject or products in much greater detail, and articles can also be edited and indexed through search-engine URLs.
  • Unlike traditional banner ads, native ads are most unlikely to conflict with existing site designs.

However, critics fear native advertising can have a negative impact:

  • Users found poorly identified native ads difficult to distinguish from “real” editorial content. When these articles are later perceived as disguised advertising, they damage the image of the product, and the medium, and also deter the user.
  • This type of “stealth” promotion of products can not only reduce website credibility, but also many critics are of the opinion native ads also violate the Press Code of independence.

A balancing act for websites

The pros and cons of the issue have generated a great deal of discussion on the Internet: Many news sites are torn between a viable source of income and the fear of losing their credibility. While some say with native ads the reader gets what he or she wants anyway, others make the point that native advertising is misleading.

Many sites have taken steps to properly identify these ads: Teasers are carefully arranged regarding design and layout so that even if they are not immediately recognizable as advertising, it is nevertheless clear these are not website articles. How does this work?

Native Ads: Please note

If a news site runs native advertising, they should follow certain guidelines as Marcel Hollerbach, CEO of NativeAds, said in a recent Textbroker interview:

  1. Native ads should aspire to the same high-quality design as the best of the editorial content, and the reader should find the quality of its content equally convincing.
  2. In the worst-case scenario, where your in-house PR department provides the text, they should be reminded that articles and posts must not be rewritten press releases. Readers want real stories!
  3. Ideally, the native ads article should feature exciting multimedia material and offer a different perspective from the “normal” editorial content of the news website.
  4. The content should be as interesting as possible and suited to the target group. It should persuade the reader to click through, and it should also entertain and inform them so well that that the site maintains a low bounce rate together with a high potential for viral distribution.
  5. Website credibility is very important: Native ads should always be clearly marked and preferably labelled “Display” to avoid Press Code violations. A color-highlighted teaser before the actual content also helps to make it clear to the reader that they are engaging with external content.

Conclusion

Looking at recent studies and experience reports, editorial embedded ads have great potential – especially on mobile devices – because they represent an option that both entertains and informs users with premium content. On the other hand, companies must always be cautious of losing their credibility, and thus their readers, as a result of using poor or badly labelled native ads. However, those who don't shy away from the prospect, and are prepared to follow some essential guidelines, could find native ads an effective and profitable extension of their content marketing strategy.


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