Native advertising – is it worth our clients’ time and money?

native advertising picClients, agencies and publishers alike are pouring more and more money into native content, but Luke Maher asks if the industry might be fooling itself as well as consumers.

Native content is by no means a new thing. If you read the latest predictions, some suggest native will form upwards of 70% of the total revenue across publishers in only a few years’ time.

That’s a big number, especially when the format itself has been hotly debated to be somewhat of a deceit, with native content tricking consumers into viewing unwanted branded content. But the real question for me – is whether native content is tricking our clients too?

Within most publisher responses that we receive on behalf of our clients we will see some form of native come into the mix. It is now hailed as the holy grail – a new, innovative way for the brand to connect with the publisher’s audience.

This can sometimes ring true, however, I’ve seen many instances where native content misses the mark for clients. The content is either chock-full of branded mentions, opening up potential backlash from consumers, or the content is so ‘native’ it’s difficult to make any connection with the brand itself – resulting in a waste of time for all involved.

A good example is this native listicle ’15 Ways To Have An Epic Road Trip Without Going Broke’ – where the consumer is somehow meant to associate with Acuvue, a brand of contact lenses.

Buzzfeed ACUVUE

It’s a fine line, and this is a big issue given the amount of money that is about to be poured into the format. Don’t get me wrong, we have done some brilliant work with publishers and our clients who have really embraced the native concept.

But this has only been achieved by all parties coming to the table in the most collaborative way, and blurring the lines between native and branded content to produce something that works for both the publisher’s audience, and importantly, the paying client too.

Native content does open up a heap of questions that advertisers and publishers will need to deal with if this is going to work. Nobody wants the content to feel like its cheapened editorial – even worse, we don’t want the consumer to be tricked into reading something and then feel cheated and pissed off.

This helps nobody and, more than anything highlights the need for native to be transparent. This is probably the reason there doesn’t seem to be much flexibility from publishers, who want to protect their audience and their brand. I totally get that – but should the client bear the cost of this?

Another point of discussion is exactly what we should be measuring native content on. Currently most publishers rely on traditional editorial metrics, like page views and time on page, as well as sharing and social numbers to demonstrate effectiveness. How do we know this works for clients?

We need to ensure that native content goes beyond this and as agencies start looking at ROI and real metrics to show its true worth.

With ad-blocking on the rise in many markets, publishers are looking for new ways to fill the gaps – both audience and revenue wise.

Native quite logically sounds like the answer for them. The next step is for publishers and brands to connect and bring together native content pieces that are engaging for an audience, and can weave in the brand objectives seamlessly. A great example is Buzzfeed’s collaboration with Cancer Research UK.

BuzzfeedUnfortunately this is harder said than done. Native content can be a labour-intensive experience for most involved, with many parties needed to create a good piece of native – from  the creative, PR, media, and most importantly, the gatekeepers of content – the editorial team.

If native is going to be a big thing for our clients then publishers need to work more collaboratively to deliver great native content opportunities for their audiences and our clients.

Luke Maher is a digital client service manager for Initiative Australia 


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