Could Native Advertising be a waste of money?
“…you may not want to tell anyone but if my client has a great story to tell or something interesting to say we can get it placed with journalists. If they don’t have anything interesting to say they shouldn’t be making content in the first place” stated Kyle Monson, Content Strategist and Chief Executive of Knock Twice, a NY based PR and Content Agency.
Definitely a controversial subject at PaidContent Live, an event sponsored by GigaOM, Native Advertising, sometimes called Brand Advertising, was despised by Andrew Sullivan, Editor of The Dish, the recently recreated online blog that eschewed advertising to become a totally paid subscription based web publication.
Andrew had no problem considering running traditional ad units such as banner ads but his opinion of Native Advertising was less than enthusiastic: “Native Advertising is an absolute betrayal of the core principles of journalism”
According to Wikipedia “Native advertising is a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to attract attention by providing valuable content in the context of the user’s experience.”
Lewis D’Vorkin, Chief Product Officer of Forbes defines Native Advertising as “marketing messages that are part of the natural flow of the way a reader or viewer uses the product”
BuzzFeed as a Poster Child for Native Advertising
If there was ever a “poster child” for native advertising it is BuzzFeed.com that has built its entire business on non-traditional ad units. BuzzFeed prides itself in the blending of advertising into the content. Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed talked about the desire to avoid annoying banner ads and to design a product that where users enjoy interacting with the advertising.
Steinberg defines a native ad as “when you take the functional unit of how the site operates and make that into an ad product. And inside native units you post branded content. So actually branded content flows into native units”
According to D’Vorkin Forbes has had much success with the utilization of Native Advertising. “Over the next 3 weeks we’ll probably have 15 or 16 simultaneous marketers who are publishing on Forbes.com”
The Federal Trade Commission recently released revised guidelines regarding the labeling of online advertising. The FTC noted the need to update the 2000 era “DotCom Disclosures” to account for the rise of Social Media.
But why should advertiser’s use native advertising instead of regular advertising? What is the competitive advantage for a site to offer native options?
Monson believes that the advertiser’s motivation is to “piggy back on the credibility of media partnerships with their audience…I think that’s true today but I don’t know if that is true forever”
Steinberg takes native advertising quite seriously. BuzzFeed approves and manages all native advertising placements on BuzzFeed. “We know what the audience likes and we prevent brands from putting content on the site that we know the audience will not like”.
The results speak for themselves. BuzzFeed claims to achieve 2 — 3% click rates on their ads which are priced at the same CPMs as banners, yet they achieve far greater response than the meager click rates from banner ads.
Affiliate Marketing which generates business through reviews has been a controversial subject for a number of years. A significant effect of websites posting false reviews was specific FTC guidelines on the use of reviews when related to the generation of sales.
Criticism has been directed towards Maria Popova, founder and writer of Brain Pickings, a highly successful personal blog which does not take advertising but does earn income from affiliate links to books she reads and reviews. Maria claims to follow Amazon and the FTC’s rules completely and even offers an alternate link to the public library to obtain the book. Yet she has weathered criticism over her integration of the Amazon book affiliate links into her book reviews.
Is Native Advertising just another Word for Advertorial?
While some brand native advertising as a new type of ad unit others just call it another type of advertorial. Once panelist cited Mobil Oil’s ads on the New York Times Editorial page from the 1970’s which were totally written by Mobil executives, clearly marked as sponsored yet the column regularly appeared within the NY Times Editorial page. He saw little difference between the Mobil ads and today’s native advertising.
But can site visitors tell the difference?
BuzzFeed’s Steinberg believes consumers have no problem telling the difference between native advertising and site content. “This whole confusion argument is basically a conspiracy put up by people that largely sell banners”
As Monson postulates “there is kind of disruption happening. As PR folks get more savvy to that they’ll start talking about how to leverage their power to get into the content well (of journalists).
image: Jon Steinberg, BuzzFeed, Kyle Monson, Knock Twice, Lewis D’Vorkin, Forbes, Felix Salmon, Reuters