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Native advertising’s here to stay — Don’t botch it

Late night comedian John Oliver recently served up a harsh dish of criticism for native advertising. In a segment on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” Colbert railed against advertisers, publishers and even consumers when he called the marketing strategy “trickery” and compared the results to heart surgery gone awry.

But the rant hardly spelled doomsday for native advertising. Instead, it reminds marketers to take heed when crafting content that runs alongside traditional editorial copy and independent media. Marketers continue to revise their strategy in a practice that many say is here to stay. “Native advertising will continue to evolve and provide more targeted, relevant and contextual content for consumers whether they’re on a desktop or mobile device,” says Yoni Levy, VP managing director of media company Digitaland.

Native advertising’s current situation

Media industry experts have yet to reach a consensus on what exactly constitutes native advertising. Some claim there’s a distinction between it, “branded content” and “sponsored content,” while others use the terms interchangeably. Either way, native advertising constitutes a form of paid media where the experience follows the natural form and function of the platform where it’s placed.

From BuzzFeed to The New York Times to Vanity Fair, major media outlets count native advertising among their content offerings, and for good reason. With print ad spending declining and digital projected to remain fairly flat, publishers are hungry for new revenue streams.

From the marketer’s perspective, native advertising is a valuable branding strategy. Research from Sharethrough indicates that they use the strategy to build awareness, rather than prompt direct sales.

The industry has worked hard to move beyond blatant church-and-state separation errors like the infamous Scientology promotion that The Atlantic ran in 2013. “What’s actually happening here is that the business side of the world has realized that to survive in the long run, they need to create quality, authentic, real content,” Dan Greenberg, founder and CEO of Sharethrough, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “In some ways, you could say that state has found its religion.”

Do’s and don’ts

As brands and media publishers refine their native advertising strategies, there are a few valuable pointers to keep in mind. For one, native ads work best in the content streams that people increasingly access on smartphones and tablets, according to research from eMarketer.

Context is also key, Levy says. “Users will become suspicious when a native ad does not match the topic, or design-wise if it doesn't fit the overall layout of the page. In addition, content that is not relevant to the category or the publication where the sponsored post was posted, will drive users away from it,” he says. Levy also adds that brands should focus on content creation first and promotion second.

As brands experiment with native ads everywhere from premium publishing sites to social media channels, Levy is optimistic about the industry’s future. “More effort and resources will be put in the content creation versus solely conveying a brand's messaging, making the native ads more appealing to consumers,” he says.

[Image via Can Stock Photo]

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