If the explosion of native ads over the last year has taught us anything, its that there is a ton of potential for them, and that all of that potential can be easily squandered if a single, core issue is not addressed. And that core issue is trust.
Unfortunately, far too much of the conversation around native advertising over the past year has focused on the best way to format and distribute native ads – not the content of those ads. But formatting is not the issue, nor will it be the solution. The issue is how the public perceives native ads, and the experience those ads provide them.
With every transaction, publishers are mining and exporting a rare resource: trust.
– Bob Garfield
At the FTC Workshop on Native Ads last December, Bob Garfield, columnist and co-host of NPR’s On the Media show, made it crystal clear what he thinks of native ads: not much. He views native advertising as an inherently deceptive practice, calling native “A conspiracy of deception. A hustle. A racket. A grift.” And this is a viewpoint increasingly shared by the average reader/consumer.
Can Branded Content Provide Value?
Regardless of whether or not you agree with Bob’s viewpoint, it has provided a necessary catalyst to broaden the conversation and address the issues that are inhibiting the long-term success of native ads.
Personally, I believe that there can be value in native ads, but that the current implementation of native ads is simply broken. The industry is focusing too much on the distribution of brand messages/ads as opposed to the content. If consumers don’t trust the content that you are sharing (like an ad), then it doesn’t really matter how well you distribute that content.
No matter how great the content is that your brand produces, it is still seen as branded content, and therefore is not seen as trustworthy by any new, potential customer who does not already know and trust your brand. So how do we bridge this increasingly wide trust gap?
I believe that the solution lies in delivering trusted, third party content. When consumers are considering brands or products, they look for (and respond to) articles and reviews of brands or products by trusted experts. Think about it – how do you yourself go about finding information when considering a purchase? Do you look for credible information from trusted experts, or do you look to a brand’s ads?
We, as marketers, need to put ourselves in the consumers shoes and establish our brands as trusted sources of information that the consumer can rely on when making decisions. If we continue to focus on how to trick more consumers into clicking on ads, then it won’t be long before native ads go the way of banner ads and become an inherently untrusted medium that consumers ignore. And that would be bad for both publishers and brands.
Stop Selling & Start Helping
Today’s uber-connected consumer does not want to be “sold to” – they want to be educated so that they can make an informed decision about their purchases. By finding the most influential articles and reviews that have already been written about your brand or products and utilizing those as native ads, brands have the opportunity to become a source of trusted content for consumers, thus building trust with the consumer and increasing brand awareness and consideration.
Ryan Skinner of Forrester said it best when he stated that many implementations of native ads are essentially “entrapment.” And that sense of entrapment does not leave a good taste in consumers’ mouths. But the shift from entrapment to empowerment – by becoming a source of credible, trusted content – is well within our reach.
The conversations happening now around native advertising – both at the FTC level and throughout the industry – all vindicate this same need for a change. A change from the current deceptive native ad practices to a more educational approach that focuses on the empowerment of consumers, as opposed to the entrapment of consumers.
As marketing professionals, we all need to ask ourselves – which side of the native advertising fence do you want your marketing efforts to fall on?