A Closer Look at Native Advertising

Native advertising hit its stride last year. “Paid posts,” which gained popularity on new media platforms like Buzzfeed and Business Insider, started popping up in venerable publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. And big brands have jumped on these sponsored content opportunities, including Dell and Shell, who have both invested in the creation of native advertising units within The New York Times.

While some brands find that native advertising “works,” as measured by clicks, it doesn’t always prove to be a valuable way to build and develop an audience. Many consumers question the credibility of sponsored posts, and will navigate away from pages that contain the dreaded “sponsored by” message.

In order to prevent this negative reaction from consumers, brands need to integrate native advertising efforts into a larger content marketing strategy. Brands today have essentially become publishers -- from beefing up their corporate blog, to integrating content into product marketing campaigns. By creating a more comprehensive content strategy among all of their branded platforms, brands will find more success with third-party content campaigns like native advertising.

Some tips to get started:

1. Create Regular Content

Brands need to become a source of content that educates, entertains and inspires audiences, not “advertises” to them. In order to shift consumer perception from brand to publisher, brands need to establish a steady cadence of content creation on their own website’s blog or in other marketing materials before embarking on a native advertising campaign.

Once a brand builds a fan following for their internally generated content, consumers will be more open to seeing them post content on third-party publishers, like news sites. Chipotle is a prime example of a publisher-brand who has created a stream of valuable, interesting content that fans have come to know and love. They’ve experimented with content in a variety of places -- from their tumblr page full of beautiful visuals, to a four-part satirical TV series on Hulu about the agricultural industry and how food is raised. The Hulu series was a way to shed light on the importance of eating food with integrity -- selections with ingredients like those served at Chipotle.

The series, and other content streams hosted on their own site, established Chipotle as a source of information about agriculture and let customers know about the ingredients used in all meals. This in turn provided an opportunity for Chipotle to create well-received native advertising campaigns about those same topics on third-party news sites, like the “Food for Thought” series on The Huffington Post.

2. Make Content Relevant to Your Brand

Chipotle’s content efforts are especially successful because they align with the brand’s identity as a source of sustainably-raised food. From the TV series to their tumblr to the company blog, Chipotle retains a consistent message on all of their platforms. Too many brands publish content just for the sake of publishing, without linking the content back to the brand’s own voice or corporate mission.

Take for example a piece of native advertising content in Buzzfeed celebrating all the valuable life lessons we learn from Dads. The article was actually a piece of native advertising from Virgin Mobile. Though the content was relevant in terms of timing (it ran around Father’s Day), it was completely irrelevant to Virgin Mobile’s brand. This content for the sake of content diminishes the value of Virgin Mobile as a publisher of useful, relevant material and leaves a negative taste in consumers' mouths.

3. Advertise in the Right Place

Beyond establishing a cadence of content, and keeping it in line with your brand identity, it’s also important to publish native advertising in the right place. The merger of content and commerce opens up new opportunities for native advertising on contextually relevant websites and publishing platforms.

Pinterest is a great example of a forum where consumers share information and photos of brands and products they love. Presumably, consumers have the desire to buy these products as well. Pinterest is integrating a “buy” button, which will allow customers to purchase items directly from the tiles where they are showcased in Pinterest. The platform is moving from scrapbook to shopping mall, and is a great place for marketers to seek out native advertising experiences, whether by creating their own Pin boards, or sponsoring tiles on curated boards in line with their product offerings.

It also teaches us a valuable lesson about the way audiences want to interact with sponsored content. The ideal location for a native advertisement is one that makes content both blend in and prompt action because its placement feels so natural (and helpful). It’s the next step in contextually relevant native advertising and it really makes sense. Investors think so too -- just look at Pinterest’s $5 billion valuation.

Native advertising has already penetrated a variety of publications. Marketers must now focus their attention on honing their larger content marketing strategies to integrate the opportunities of native advertising, and become bigger, better publishers of content in their own right.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  donna_0622