Advertising is enjoying a post-pandemic comeback with the global ad market predicted to grow 14% in 2021. Digital display still dominates, accounting for more than 60% of total ad sales, but a decade since the term native advertising was first used, spending in the US is expected to increase by 21% in 2021 to a value of $57 billion.
- The ideas behind native advertising are not new; advertorials wrapping commercial messages in editorial content have been published by newspapers and magazines for decades. The term itself was coined 10 years ago and digital publishers like Buzzfeed have been delivering content paid for by advertisers alongside their independent editorial ever since.
- The native advertising philosophy generally relies on internal agency staffers creating commercial messages that echo the style of independent editorial stories. This approach, “borrows credibility from the newsroom in order to enhance the value of the ad created for clients,” according to the Tow Centre’s Guide to Native Advertising.
- The challenge for publishers is to maintain the quality of their sponsored content. They should avoid simply publishing what James Briener, writing in The Fix, calls content that is “sometimes crassly commercial, which can affect the credibility of the publication.”
The secret to native advertising success is to create sponsored content that is almost indistinguishable from the other high-quality journalism published.
- Done properly, native advertising offers some distinct advantages over other digital ad formats. Consumers look at native ads 53% more than display ads, according to Outbrain. They deliver up to 60% higher engagement rates than banner ads, with retention three times higher, according to Marketing Land.
- Briener uses the example of an article examining trends in female incarceration – “The article looks and feels like the kind of in-depth reporting you might see in the newspaper,” he says. But it was created by the NYT’s in-house content agency to promote the second season of the Netflix show, “Orange is the new Black”.
- Female-focused newsletter publisher The Skimm uses native advertising content to avoid chasing programmatic revenue and to maintain a brand-safe environment for advertisers. The range of video content created in partnership with brands is extensive, from Investing 101 sponsored by Fidelity to How to revamp your sleep routine sponsored by Blue Apron.
The Tow Guide to Native Advertising goes into some detail on the ethical challenges that need to be overcome by publishers chasing their share of a market predicted to be worth $400 billion by 2025. The bottom line is taking great care to avoid making what is essentially advertising copy look like news or feature content; clear labelling of paid content is crucial to maintaining reader trust.
Equally important in maintaining credibility with the audience is preventing clients overstepping the ethical boundaries that have traditionally supported trust in editorial content. “The power imbalance means we may be in a race to the bottom when it comes to pushing back on how advertisers can and should work with new outlets,” the Tow Guide warns.
And there are examples of publishers perhaps going too far:
- The Spanish paper El Pais giving over its entire front page to Ford
- USA Today creating a fake news story of human-animal hybrids to promote the Netflix series Sweet Tooth
“We all need to be on our guard all the time,” says Briener. “Credibility is gained slowly over time, and it can be lost in a minute”.