4 Steps to Open and Honest Native Advertising

Did you see the March edition of Forbes? The cover seems normal at first glance: a photo of a man with his tie blowing in the breeze, catchy article teasers and a native ad for Fidelity.

Wait a second. There’s a native advertisement on the cover of Forbes?

Forbes is a legendary brand that has a reputation for pushing the envelope of journalism and advertising, but placing a native ad on the cover of its magazine is new territory.

Given the growing popularity of native advertising, Forbes will not be the last publication to make such a move. Although native advertising has its detractors, when done well, it’s one of the best ways for businesses to reach their audiences.

In order to better understand the current state of native advertising, it’s best to take a look at how we got to where we are today.

The Birth Of Native Advertising

The concept of native advertising in print dates back to the early 1900s. But it didn’t appear online until about 10 years ago.

The earliest web advertisements were flashing banners and pop-ups. They were obvious, inconvenient and annoying. Readers could, at first glance, tell the difference between content and the display ads that populated publisher pages. Click-through rates were dismal on these ad units, so publishers and ad networks went back to the drawing board and decided to bring native advertising to the Internet.

The idea behind digital native advertising was to create ads that would fit in naturally with a publication’s content. At first, brands and advertisers took this concept to the extreme and often failed to disclose that the ads were ads. As a result, click-through rates soared. But it didn’t take long for customers to catch on. They felt duped and began to distrust publications and brands.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Today’s culture places a premium on honesty. So in advertising, it’s more important than ever to be transparent with your purpose and your labeling. All native ads need to be clearly marked as such. If they aren’t labeled, readers will feel deceived. And if they associate your brand with deception, they’ll never want to do business with you.

It’s also important for publications to be selective. The Atlantic learned this the hard way in early 2013. The publication ran a native ad for Scientology that boasted a “milestone year” for the religion. The magazine’s readers found the content unappealing and shared their opinions in the comments section and on social media. This caused The Atlantic to remove the ad and apologize.

Deceptive and poorly placed native advertisements can end up doing businesses and publications more harm than good. The negative publicity alone could be tough to bounce back from.

How To Keep It Real

Even with the associated risks, native advertising is a great option for delivering valuable, targeted content to consumers. When done properly, everyone wins. Publishers can associate their names with great content and brands, while advertisers can spread to new markets and grow their reputations.

Here are four tips that have been thoroughly tested over the years and are proven to help increase native ad credibility:

1. Be Obvious In Labeling

When defending the Fidelity ad on its cover, Forbes pointed out that it used the term “FidelityVoice,” which is similar to the “BrandVoice” tag it typically assigns to sponsored content. This might have seemed obvious to the magazine’s editorial staff, but it flew over the heads of most people. Now Forbes is paying the price for doing something it thought was clever.

Don’t get too cute with your native ads. You should insist that publishers or ad networks stamp your content with clear and obvious language that designates it as sponsored material. Language such as “Offers and Articles From Around the Web” or “Sponsored Content” will suffice. Or simply stating “Ads by X” might be enough. Whatever language you use, audiences should be more than aware that they are reading your words and not the publication’s.

2. Don’t Be Ashamed Of Advertising

Why are companies so afraid of admitting that an advertisement is an advertisement?

Advertisements are a widely accepted part of society. Consumers understand that businesses and publications need to buy and sell ads to stay afloat. If you gave money to a publication in exchange for the publishing of your content, call it what it is: an advertisement.

Being upfront about your ads will increase consumer trust in both your message and your brand.

3. Be Proud Of Your Brand

Be proud that your company produces valuable content for consumers. Because you are paying for the placement of this material, why hide behind the publication’s brand?

Instead, utilize the publication’s platform to personally deliver your message to its audience. Trying to hide your involvement in the publishing process is counterproductive.

4. Work With Editors

If you are not fully confident in your ability to tell your story, publications are more than willing to help you craft your native advertisements. They do this for a living, so why not take advantage of their services?

Crafting clean and professional content is crucial to your brand’s reputation. If your copy is sloppy, publications might refuse to run your ad. Make sure you are utilizing every available tool to create sharp, effective and transparent advertisements.

When done well, native advertising campaigns offer valuable content to consumers, revenue for publishers and exposure for your brand – a win-win-win situation.

But proper labeling and disclosure make all the difference. Make sure consumers know that you can be trusted.