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Full Disclosure: Why Transparency in Native Advertising Is Good for Everyone

Date published: July 27, 2015
Last updated: July 27, 2015

Have you ever had an acquaintance strike up a seemingly friendly conversation about skin care or cooking — only to find yourself invited to her Avon or Pampered Chef party five minutes later?

It’s more than irritating; it’s disingenuous and rude.

Think of native advertising the same way. It’s not that readers are disinterested in your product or content; they just want to know who’s talking to them and the motives behind the conversation.

Not All Disclosure Is Created Equal

All native advertising needs to carry some form of disclosure, but it’s the nature of the disclosure that makes all the difference.

Some of the most common types of disclosure, such as homepage buyouts and banners at the top of an ad, are less than 30 percent effective in being noticed and understood by readers.

This failure rate doesn’t bode well for anyone. If a reader enjoys a content piece without ever realizing you sponsored it, you’ve done yourself no favors. And if a reader feels duped by your sneakily promotional content, they’ll associate negative feelings with your brand.

I urge you to be clever, witty and creative with the presentation of your native advertising — just do so without being deceptive. If your content is valuable and helpful, why wouldn’t you want to clearly and transparently tell readers that you wrote it?

How to Properly Disclose Native Ads

Maximizing consumer engagement while keeping native ads transparent is not an easy task. There are two main factors that go into the effectiveness of your ad: clear disclosure and consistent messaging.

Here’s how to ensure success in both of these arenas:

Clear, Visible Disclosure

It doesn’t matter whether your content is editorial or promotional; you still need to make sure the widget or landing page hosting your ad is clearly labeled as sponsored content. This disclosure should be more than visible to the reader and preferably displayed prominently in the top right-hand corner of the page.

The industry hasn’t yet settled on ideal disclosure wording, and BuzzFeed and The New York Times are testing the limits of this plight to mixed reviews. Until a standard is set, your ultimate goal should be to promote as much transparency through disclosure as possible.

Consistent, Honest Messaging

Don’t bait and switch readers. If you sell pools, don’t talk about bikinis because it’ll get you more clicks. The bikini-interested consumers who click on your link will immediately leave and may even associate your brand with sleaziness because of dishonesty.

Be honest upfront — even if it only earns you half the clicks. These clicks will be more meaningful and qualified, and you will have a much better chance of gaining sales or positive associations with your brand.

In the end, strong content that sparks reader interest combined with clear disclosure and relevant branding is the trifecta of native advertising. It’s something that Adobe has nailed with its sponsored “CMO Today” section on the Wall Street Journal’s website, and it’s what Virgin Mobile has successfully done by sponsoring an entire section of stories about mobile technology on BuzzFeed.

If the content is great, consumers won’t mind if it’s abundantly clear that it’s sponsored material. So stop beating around the bush, and start proudly telling the world that you care about creating relevant and helpful content.

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