According to the Federal Trade Commission, (FTC), “marketers and publishers are using innovative methods to create, format, and deliver digital advertising. One form is ‘native advertising,’ content that bears a similarity to the news, feature articles, product reviews, entertainment, and other material that surrounds it online. But as native advertising evolves, are consumers able to differentiate advertising from other content?”
While some trade publications in some industries are embracing this form of advertising, others are unsure about it. They do not know if this form of advertising, also known as branded content, is for them, if their readers will accept it, and probably most importantly, how to go about posting native advertising so that it works. Paying off for the advertiser and prove valuable to the reader.
However, studies have found that marketers love native advertising, mainly because sponsored content rates are higher than banner ads or online advertising. And very often engagement with the marketer is much stronger, often leading to a sale.
We should add that this form of advertising, sometimes also referred to as “buzzfeed native advertising” isn’t for everyone, but when it’s done correctly, it can be valuable for all parties: the advertiser gets their message across, the reader learns about a product or service that can help them, and the publisher has a new revenue stream.
Let’s Define Native Advertising
As discussed here, we are referring to paid content – an article, a video, even an infographic – that naturally fits in with the look, feel, and other content in the publication. The only difference is, in subtle and not so subtle ways, the native advertising piece points to the benefits of a specific product or service.
Although it has been resurrected in the past decade as publications look for new ways to generate revenue, native advertising is not new. In fact, it dates back as far as the 1900s.
However, there were some problems with early forms of native advertising that caused it to falter, among them the following:
- In some cases, there was no disclosure of any kind that the article/content was placed by an advertiser; this got some advertisers and some publications in legal hot water.
- If there was no disclosure, once a reader realized what they read was really an advertisement, they felt duped. This caused them to distrust the advertiser and the publication. Ouch.
- Sometimes there was a disclosure but it was not clear. For instance, initially Forbes used the term “FidelityVoice” to indicate an article was advertising. But nobody but Forbes knew what FideltyVoice was. When readers figured it out, they were not happy. After clarifying – and apologizing – Forbes changed the name to “BrandVoice” to better indicate an article is sponsored content.
Native Advertising vs Content Marketing
So now that we know what native advertising is, we need to discuss how it compares to content marketing. Native advertising is called advertising because that is essentially what it is. The advertisers is very clear what is being promoted and they are paying for the placement….that’s what an ad is all about.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is far more subtle, and at least in North America, is rarely paid for by and advertiser. The content may point to a product or service but not mention it specifically in the article. Its all done very tactfully. Content marketing turns an advertiser into a thought leader, builds trust which then leads to sales. It has much more credibility.
So to clarify, with this form of advertising, it is very clear the content is “sponsored,” meaning it is paid for by the advertiser. Further, manufacturer’s names and products are clearly noted in the content.
In content marketing, the article just points to the advertiser’s products or services, it does not mention them by name. The content is very credible, well researched and thought out, and designed to make the advertiser a thought leader. A thought leader builds trust, loyalty, which we trust eventually leads to sales.
So now we know why native advertising failed in the past. How can advertisers ensure that readers get some quality education with your sponsored content and publications make a few bucks with it along the way?
Native Advertising Guidelines: Five Tips to Make it Work:
- Make sure the publisher properly labels your native advertising. No one benefits if the reader feels duped after reading the content, as mentioned earlier.
- Make sure the information presented is of high quality. The more informative it is, the more the reader will appreciate this form of advertising and look into the product or service discussed.
- Typically when preparing an article in a trade publication, the publisher will frown on mentioning a product or company name. Not so with native advertising. The advertiser should feel free to mention their company and any products referenced – as long as it meets the criteria just discussed in suggestion 2.
- Include images and links. Images catch the reader’s attention and can help them visualize how the product or service works. Making it even easier, add links to images and videos of the product in action. And don’t forget the “alt text” under the image. These are picked up in search engines.
- Work with the editor to ensure the sponsored content fits their publication. Effective native advertising has the same look and feel as other articles in the publication and that’s how the editor will want it.
So now you know some of the basics about native advertising and content marketing. The take away: done right, it can be very powerful and effective.
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Sidebar: How European Trade Publications Handle Native Advertising
Interestingly, European trade publications have their own way of using native advertising. When working with an editor in a European publication, the editor will give writers a lot of leverage such as mentioning manufacturers and products by name, something that is typically frowned on in the US unless it is paid for.
What they do, is instead of having advertisers pay for the placement, they charge for images to be posted in the content. One image may cost about $100 US; two $180.00, etc. And the more images placed (purchased) the more words the advertiser is allowed to provide. This is essentially the way it has been done in Europe for decades.
Do the readers know it is essentially paid content?
By now, I can’t imagine they do not. However, if they learn something from the content, and learn something about the features and benefits of the advertisers product, it still seems to make everyone happy.