If you don’t know what native advertising is, you’ve seen it. In fact, if it was a skillfully executed example of native advertising, it likely affected your decisions without you even thinking about it. That’s the goal, and it’s one reason why this unique form of marketing has become so popular. However, to understand the implications of native advertising, especially when it comes to internet marketing, it’s important to examine what it is, and how it works, from the ground up.
What Is Native Advertising, and why is it a growing trend?
Native advertising is when ads are integrated into a website’s content so they’re hard to recognize as ads. In short, it’s when advertising is camouflaged so that it looks like any other article on a website, or in a magazine or newspaper. The difference between native advertising, and regular editorial content, is that it will have tiny disclaimers which eagle-eyed viewers will be able to catch, declaring that this content is, in fact, sponsored by a corporation.
On the one hand, native advertising has proven wildly successful as both a form of advertising for businesses, as well as a source of income for news sites which have had a hard time generating revenue. According to LinkedIn, users are 53% more likely to look at a piece of native advertising than they ever would at a banner ad.
Native advertising makes more money for the content creators, the companies paying for advertising get more views, and they get to craft their own message. That’s great, from the business side of the equation. On the other hand, native advertising is a trend that must be dealt with carefully. When handled poorly, it can create a negative backlash from the audience against both the advertiser, and the company being advertised.
The Separation of Church and State
Per “Last Week Tonight”, the biggest risk involved in native advertising is what’s known as the separation of church and state. Traditionally, there has been a very clear line between editorial (the actual content, typically news stories) and business (the advertising, which is where the funding for the paper, magazine, or site typically comes from). This separation is there to maintain the integrity of the site, showing that the money it earned is over there, this over here is where the journalism and reporting is done.
At its best, native advertising blurs that line. At its worst, native advertising feels like a magic trick; no harm is done to your reputation if you pull it off, but if the audience sees the sleight of hand, it will cause a negative reaction.
The real difficulty with the issue is that, if handled properly, native advertising doesn’t have to be compromising. It’s possible for a corporation to pay for native advertising, or just to fund a site’s content creation, to get good press out of helping. However, as John Oliver pointed out during Last Week Tonight’s coverage, integrity is why so many people trust a newspaper, magazine, or website. They believe that it isn’t being influenced, or just acting as a mouthpiece to broadcast a message from a corporate backer. Native advertising is, metaphorically, when that publication points a gun at someone’s head. You might trust them not to pull the trigger, because that’s the ethical thing to do, but you’d also prefer if they weren’t pointing a gun at you at all.
The Rules of Native Advertising
It’s important, when creating native advertising content, to take a lesson from South Park. You’re not here to trick your readers, or to get them to accidentally click on an ad that looks like an arrow, or the big red X that is supposed to close an ad. All that smoke and mirrors does is frustrate your users, and ruin their experience.
Instead, follow these two, simple rules to make your native advertising work. Rule number one is to create content that is engaging, interesting, honest, and which enriches your readers’ lives. Rule number two is to never, ever forget rule number one.
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