Commentary

Don't Hide The 'Advertising' In Native Advertising

At MediaPost's OMMA Native conference in New York this week, a good chunk of panel time was devoted to the kinds of issues that you, your architect, and your contractor probably argue about: Should the wall go here, here, or maybe there? And if it goes here, will someone put a lien on the house because we've committed a zoning transgression? 

With native advertising and branded editorial content, it's hard to know where the property line is. And there are no clear guidelines. That will change -- maybe; no, probably not -- on Dec. 4, when the FTC convenes a gathering of agency people, publishers, brands, and consumer advocates to hash out what constitutes advertising and sponsored content, and where to pour the cement between ads and editorial.  

Among the issues elucidated at OMMA Native on Tuesday: what constitutes a violation of consumer trust? When do consumers feel that sense of having been tricked into reading or viewing something they thought was editorial content? In the latter case, we all know where the low-water mark is: "News Flash: Doctors Discover Incredible Way To Burn Fat With Lichen Mush. Read Story Here!" Okay -- we know that's going to be an advertorial, but we click on it anyway because just maybe it's a story. 

Some other interesting shuttlecocks that were batted around at the panels: who should be responsible for setting the limits between editorial and brand content? The editors or the media buyers? How do you get the two sides to work together to make the program seamless, but not too seamless?

Whoever handles it, there are two critical engagement rules from my perspective. One is transparency. Effective native advertising begins with content clarity: is this content paid or earned? Is it a brand's content in a walled garden? Is it an advertisement trying to pretend it’s not? 

Advertisers should take the initiative in advertising that their content is advertising. Publishers should help by creating a place where branded content lives. But advertisers shouldn't just assume the publisher will oversee differentiation with unique layout, fonts and page setups. You don't want readers to discover that they've been lured into a brand's dog-and-pony show. I don't know anyone who likes being played for a fool. When that happens to me I, for one, vow every time never to buy Lichen Mush again. 

Secondly, the branded content or advertising should complement the space it's inhabiting. And it should be compelling because -- regardless of how transparent a brand is -- if the content is lame, it will make your reader angry and disinclined to ever engage with you again. 

Land Rover's integration with Outside magazine is a pretty good program where the brand position is clear, the content is relevant, well done, and aligned with the magazine's vertical and the brand's positioning. And the publisher has created a section that is clearly a space for branded content. There's no doubt about what you're looking at, so you're not, like, "WTF, this is an advertisement? I'll never drive one of these again." 

Another good one is Chevrolet's integration on BuzzFeed, which figured out the formula long ago. Actually, as long as a brand finds a way to be different -- a little offbeat -- it's all good. Chevrolet's site touts the Sonic and Spark subcompacts with creative that aligns with BuzzFeeds Zots-like eye candy (that you feel a little guilty about having enjoyed.) “15 unique gas stations around the world,” is one item. Yes -- it's useless information, but still, I'm interested. And “11 road maps to honor your favorite U.S. cities.” The route for Seattle is in the shape of a coffee cup. No, you aren't going to do that drive, but so what? You get the picture. So to speak. All of the content, in fact, aligns with the big message: telematics. 

Now excuse me while I learn about how to get a six-pack on a pure beer diet ... .

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1 comment about "Don't Hide The 'Advertising' In Native Advertising".
  1. Anni Paul from BoscoSystems , November 8, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
    I agree. Consumers will resent the advertisers that try to pull a fast one, so to speak. But if the ads are done right (relevant, well targeted, well written, etc.) the "advertising" designation won't matter much. What I wonder about is how this will all play out on mobile, which is where native ads are headed next - http://techcrunch.com/2013/10/10/airpush-acquires-hubbl-for-15-million-to-bring-native-ads-to-mobile/