Tag Archives: Native advertising

Quite Content With Content

I think I may have misspoken.  Well, not misspoken, exactly, but perhaps I’ve conveyed the wrong idea about my feelings on content marketing.  The fact that you’re reading the screed today should tell you that I’m a fan of real content marketing: it’s native advertising disguised as “content” that pisses me off.  If I haven’t made the differences between the two clear, let’s use the next minute or so to rectify the issue. 

I’ve railed more than once about advertising masquerading as content.  Frankly, now that the FTC is watching this carefully, my displeasure is the least of anyone who is engaged in the activity’s worries.  It’s not hard to distinguish when you should or shouldn’t notify your readers if it’s “native” content: if some entity paid you to put the story up, or of they wrote it and bought the space where it’s running, it needs to be labelled as advertising.  Let’s leave it there for now.

True content marketing is what you’re reading.  I don’t think I’m letting you in on a secret when I tell you that part of the reason I write this blog is to show potential clients that I have a decent grasp of marketing, media, and digital.  Hopefully, as you read this every day (you DO read every day, don’t you?), you’re learning something or seeing something that makes you pause and think. I try to keep it informative and entertaining.  It’s one form of content marketing.

In addition to blogs, you might have given a company your email in return for a white paper on a topic of interest to you. Maybe you listen to a company’s podcast because it teaches you and informs.  Maybe you downloaded an e-book.  As the Content Marketing Institute defines it:

Content marketing is a strategic marketingapproach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

I am a huge fan of this sort of marketing.  It is something of value given away, generally for nothing more than an email address.  It works, too.  Research has shown content marketing to be 62% less expensive per lead than traditional outbound marketing. Unlike native, it’s transparent too. Don’t have the resources to generate this sort of material?  Call me – we’ll make it happen.  So what are you waiting for?

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Dishonesty As A Feature, Not A Bug

Since we began the year yesterday with a screed about data gathering practices which are less than forthcoming, let’s continue with some thinking on native advertising.  I admit I’m fairly old school about it, but before you jump to conclusions about what that means, let me explain.  I mean REALLY old school, such as when the show’s talent stood in front of the camera and did a commercial read.  With 40 years in the media business under my belt, I have no problems with advertising.  Where I do have an issue is when advertising masquerades as something else.

Let’s start with the fact that consumers generally don’t know that native ads are, in fact, ads.  Two studies support this:

Across both studies, relatively few viewers understood that the article itself was paid advertising: only 7% in Study 1 and 18.3% in Study 2 (in which all conditions used the most recognizable language, “sponsored content”).

So even though there was a disclaimer of sorts around the article, having the reader mistake it for editorial content isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.  The FTC seems to understand this and issued some guidelines around Christmas.  As reported in Media Post:

The new guidance directs companies to label native ads that potentially could be mistaken for editorial content with terms like “advertisement,” “paid advertisement,” or “sponsored advertising content.” The FTC specifically criticizes labels like “promoted” or “promoted stories,” stating that those terms “are at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site.”

In other words, don’t mislead your readers.  Call an ad an ad.  The studies, by the way, say that you should do so in the middle of the native piece for maximum identification, and not at the top as is commonly done now.  Seems pretty fair, except that the IAB reacted by saying the FTC was way out of line because it might “stifle innovation.”  It’s not a small issue – native ads represent a $7.9 billion pool of ad money and that pool is expected to grow to $21 billion by 2018.  That’s a lot of misleading.

One need not be a publishing genius to grasp that when a reader figures out that something they perceived to be editorial is, in fact, advertising, they will think less of, and possibly question, everything else in the publication.  The research found

When readers perceive a difference between publisher-created editorial content and paid advertising that resembles editorial content there are differences in how they perceive the credibility of the news story. As online publishers seek to balance the pull of native advertising revenue with a potential push for disclosures from regulators and advocates, they should be aware that the best attempts to create informed consumers may result in negative perceptions of news credibility and quality.

In other words, the short-term gain of the native ad can jeopardize the long-term value of the brand’s credibility.  That’s not a bug either.  There is not a thing wrong with the ad-supported business model until we start disguising the ads.  That’s when we jeopardize the entire enterprise, in my opinion.  Yours?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Asking For Trouble

You might have read yesterday’s screed about how AT&T was selling “unlimited” data plans that really had limits and shaken your head. I mean, doing something as deceptive as that would never cross your mind, right? Well, let’s put that deception into another, more prevalent context and find out.

The Association of National Advertisers did a survey about native advertising. You know what that is – content created by or for a sponsor which looks very much like the environment in which it runs. Maybe it’s completely straightforward or maybe it contains subtile messaging about the sponsor’s product or service. As the ANA puts it:

Native advertising is an advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing messaging in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed. The advertiser’s intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and increase the likelihood users will engage with it.

Many marketers (58%) are already engaged in this and many more intend to do so in the next year. I’m not going to go off (again) on publishers who do their damnedest to blur the line between ad and editorial. Instead, let’s just look at what the ANA found:

  • Two-thirds of respondents agree that native advertising needs clear disclosure that it is indeed advertising. Only 13 percent feel that such disclosure is not needed.
  • Both the publisher and the advertiser have a responsibility to ensure disclosure.
  • Three-fourths of respondents feel that there is an ethical boundary for the advertising industry when it comes to native advertising.

That’s all well and good except that when it comes to how that disclosure is made, we might just have an issue (and what the hell are the 13% thinking?). A company called TripleLift surveyed 209 U.S. consumers for their thoughts on how native ads are presented. They were shown a native ad on a website and different respondents saw the ad with different labels.  Seventy-one percent said they noticed the content in the ad, but fully 62 percent didn’t realize they were looking at an ad.  When asked which labels were the most clear, “advertisement” and “sponsored by” were the best in terms of letting consumers know they were looking at an ad.  The problem is that readers do NOT like feeling as if they’ve been deceived, as a study by Contently found:

  • Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand.
  • 54 percent of readers don’t trust sponsored content.
  • 59 percent of readers believe a news site loses credibility if it runs articles sponsored by a brand.

So let’s go back to the AT&T question.  Would you knowingly try to deceive a consumer?  Before you answer, are you running native ads that just might be doing exactly that?  Are we – marketers and publishers – just asking for trouble in our quest for better engagement?  Let me know your thoughts.

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