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The What, Why, and How of Native Advertising

Date published: January 08, 2015
Last updated: January 8, 2015

In our world, content creation is king. We spend an inordinate amount of time brainstorming, researching, creating and outreaching unique and well-written content across a range of industry niches and target markets. When we create content, we create it with the reader in mind, to be a genuine resource of information with no hard sell, promotion or trickery to promote our clients’ products or services. In short, we are adding value.

But what is the difference between content marketing and native advertising? According to a recent report by FaR, commissioned by Adyoulike, 83 percent of UK agencies say they are including native advertising in their media plans for the year ahead. This, despite a recent article on WordStream suggesting that almost half of consumers have no idea what native advertising is - and of those consumers who do, 51 percent are skeptical.

What is native advertising?

In layman’s terms, native advertising is paid content, often well-disguised as organic content. Formats can include articles, infographics, videos, adverts and more. Content promoted in this way may appear to provide value, but the overall goal is to sell a product or service.

How does native advertising work?

A recent post on Relevance does a really good job of demystifying native ads and gives explanations of the three most commonly found formats and how to spot them.

At Zazzle Media, we’re all about the content. Our Ideation Process is the result of 15 years of content brainstorming, born out of the world of print and made fit-for-purpose in the digital world. When we’re creating ideas for our clients, no matter how big or small, we follow this process to ensure the idea has got ‘it’. It maximizes the likelihood of creating content that’s valuable, interesting and shareable. Forget the X-Factor; we want the ‘share’ factor.

Also Read: The 2018 Native Advertising Technology Landscape is Still Growing

However, in my opinion, this is where native advertising can fall down - focusing too much on the method of distribution and not enough on what is actually being communicated. The fact that the very nature of native is to ensure the content matches the platform it appears on means your scope for ideas can be limited. Because of this, I’d advise any business to consider carefully the platform they intend to advertise on before getting too deep into ideation & creation.

A native advert on The Financial Times might sound like a great idea, but does the tone of voice of that particular outlet fit your brand? If not, keep looking. Don’t allow yourself to compromise your brand values just to suit a native placement.

Facebook is a great way to get around this. Because there is so much content shared on Facebook each and every day – all of which varies hugely in tone and target audience – it means you are not restricted. Better yet, your audience will be used to receiving marketing messages in this way and are less likely to feel like you’ve pushed content onto them without their permission. It also has some really great targeting options meaning you can be really precise about who you want to target.

Why does native advertising work?

Brands and advertisers love native advertising, mainly because the click-through rates tend to be much higher than typical advertisements and if you do it right, engagement can go through the roof. Sharethrough and IPG recently found that consumers engaged with native ads 53 percent more frequently than traditional display ads. Some 32 percent of their survey respondents also said they would share a native ad with someone they know.

Related: Before You Do Any Influencer Marketing, Check These Templates

Why is this? According to Shareaholic, 70 percent of people want to learn about products through content, rather than through traditional advertising. Furthermore, people view native ads 53 percent more often than banner ads. Add rich media to the pot and conversion rates can increase by up to 60 percent.

For me, it’s the shareable nature of native advertising (and content marketing for that matter) that adds the most value. We recently wrote an entire article on what makes content go viral, should you wish to find out more on how to curate that ‘sticky’ content we all so crave; it’s actually quite a science.

Friskies gets "it"

A recent series of native adverts from Friskies called Dear Kitten is a great example of this. As a cat lover, this series of videos really caught my attention. I didn’t even mind that they were trying to sell me cat food!

I shared on Facebook and mentioned it to several people and, with over 18 million YouTube views since it was first published in June, I was clearly not the only one. It truly had the ‘share’ factor.

How many of those 18 million viewers now buy Friskies over Whiskas? I don’t know. But what I do know is that those people now have an emotional connection to the brand and are much more likely to be open to accepting brand messages from Friskies in future.

How much should I invest? What’s the ROI?

So how much should you invest in native advertising? Considering a whopping 73 percent of marketers said in Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising report that they have no idea (or hardly a clue) about what native advertising is, it’s no surprise that many of us are concerned when allocating big portions of budget to these activities. In fact, many companies still allocate nothing to native advertising, perhaps due to a lack of understanding or fear of stepping away from the traditional methods that have served them well for so long.

I’m not saying you should put your entire budget into native, but I do know you need to allocate a sizeable amount. Currently pegged at $3.2 billion, native ad spending will continue rising by more than 30 percent over the next two years and top the $7 billion mark in 2017. It’s on pace to top $10 billion before 2020.

How this breaks down for you and your business will depend on many factors but – whether you want to embrace it or not – you better believe that your competitors will. Why? Because native is an antidote for media clutter and it’s an effective way to drive viewers to owned media.

Where to begin – A step-by-step guide

If you’re not sure where to start with creating a native campaign, fear not. We have created a very basic step-by-step guide to help you create a plan that fits within a wider campaign for content distribution alongside Digital PR, Paid Search (PPC) and Social.

Step 1 – Content Creation

  • Create a mission statement – What is this campaign trying to achieve?
  • Collect as much data as possible – whether that’s Facebook insights, GA data or competitor analysis. The Zazzle Facebook Audience Insight Calculator will help you do this.
  • Based on that data, create personas - Who are you targeting? What do they like? Where do they hang out online? What do they want to see and read online? We have created a handy persona template to help you with this here.
  • Brainstorm ideas – Get your team involved; the more ideas, the better at this stage. Use your personas to help with this but don’t limit yourself too much; you can cull any inappropriate ideas later.
  • Take the best ideas and make a plan – Create a content strategy that includes a variety of content types and classifies them by type (i.e. blog post, feature article, infographic).
  • Consider trending content – Once you have your best ideas, look around online to plug into existing conversations to see what works and what doesn’t. Tools such as Fresh Web Explorer, Social Mention, and Google Trends can help with this.
  • Create a content calendar – Unless you are a content writing / ideas machine, you won’t be able to create a new piece every day. Consider when you’ll promote each content idea taking into account your key periods, seasonal opportunities and existing data around when you’ve performed best in the past.

Step 2 – The Platform

You have the ideas and you know when you want to promote them, but which platforms should you use to do this? Since this is an article about native, let’s focus on the platforms suitable for this kind of advertising.

Social Media (Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn)

  • Pros
    • Highly targeted (Facebook particularly)
    • Low budget
    • Flexible
  • Cons
    • A lot of ‘noise’ from other advertisers
    • Easily missed or skipped over

Publisher Editorial Streams – Outbrain/Taboola/Nativo

  • Pros
    • Low barriers to entry – low cost per click and quick to set up
    • Drives traffic
    • Offers analytics
    • Can target geographically
  • Cons
    • Can lead to a high bounce rate
    • Difficult to affect targeting (lots of wasted budget)
    • Limited tracking
    • No quality control for readers – could lead to them tuning out

For a more detailed overview of each platform, this article from Contently’s Jordan Teicher post does a great job of explaining. Creating high-quality branded content is very important, but when it comes to making sure your ad revenue is spent effectively, understanding the best ways to get eyes on your content can be just as crucial to your success.

Step 3 - Measurement

Considering that many marketers still don’t really understand how native advertising works, it’s no surprise they also don’t know how to measure it. One of the most common metrics used by publishers and advertisers to measure performance is engagement, which may include page views, click through rates or time spent reading the content. Others use traffic, social media sharing, brand lift and cost per click.

There are, however, limitations to these methods. Engagement does not always provide an immediate and measurable increase in sales or conversions, but often does later down the line. This article from AdExchanger does a great job of explaining the different options for tracking performance.

For me, the biggest selling point of native advertising is the opportunity to create engagement with your brand. Therefore engagement should be the main metric for success.

When Native advertising goes wrong

Done well, native ads can be interesting, informative and sell a product or build a brand. Get them wrong and your customers/readers will hate you for it. Knowing how to strike this delicate – yet crucial – balance is difficult, but the key is really in the planning as I explained earlier. For great native advertising, you need the right piece of content on the right platform.

Bizarre Couplings

A popular example of what happens when content and platform clash 2013’s controversial advertorial for the Church of Scientology on The Atlantic’s website, which had both the church and the publisher wishing they’d never done it. You can read more on that story here

Another example of strange bedfellows includes when The Economist teamed up with Buzzfeed to create a promotional listicle titled "Dare2GoDeep." The piece, and indeed, the pairing, was widely mocked as "inane" and "cringe-worthy." Understandable when you’re trying to pair up one of the world's most respected news magazines and a website known for its lists of “all the things”.

Native Trickery

What’s worse than strange pairings? When native becomes a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consumers do not appreciate the bait-and-switch approach that some publishers have chosen to take.

This brings me on to the importance of correct labeling for native adverts. Following Mondelez’s banned native ad for Oreo on YouTube, advertising trade bodies ISBA and the IAB have warned brands to be respectful of their consumers and clearly label sponsored content as advertising. No one can argue that this is great content but, despite not being labeled as such, it is promotional.

The most commonly accepted labels for native adverts as approved by the IAB are as follows:

  • “Advertisement” or “AD“ (Google, YouTube)
  • “Promoted” or “Promoted by [brand]”
  • “Sponsored” or “Sponsored by [brand]” or “Sponsored Content”
  • “Presented by [brand]” and “Featured Partner”

Native advertising can be a powerful tool and will no doubt continue to grow and flex to meet the demands of advertisers and consumers alike. It has opened up exciting new opportunities to advertisers and publishers beyond what advertorials and display adverts can offer.

Remember, though, when creating a native campaign, the consumer should always be able to distinguish between what is paid advertising and what is editorial content. Unclear labeling or failure to disclose what is clearly an advert can really annoy your consumers if they feel tricked into digesting your promoted content. Be honest with them and they will thank you for it.

To quote Eric Goeres, director of innovation at Time magazine, “Don’t trick them. Don’t piss them off.”

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