Transparency Can Solidify Blurred Lines -- No Need To Regulate
At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is discussing how consumers relate to branded content. Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the FTC, noted, “The delivery of relevant messages and cultivating user engagement are important goals, of course… But it’s equally important that advertising not mislead consumers. By presenting ads that resemble editorial content, an advertiser risks implying, deceptively, that the information comes from a nonbiased source.” The question is whether the practice requires government regulation.
This all occurs at a time in our industry’s history when consumers are “banner-blind,” and native seems to be just what the doctor ordered. But are we generating higher engagement rates at the expense of consumer trust? Do consumers even care whether content is sponsored, so long as it’s great content?
Whether consumers care or not, the onus is on us as an industry to ensure there’s not a whiff of “bait and switch” in our native advertising strategies. As advertisers become publishers, transparency becomes more important than ever. Consumers don’t like feeling duped. No one does. We have to make sure they’re getting a fair value exchange: great content in exchange for attention and data.
Of course, when the advertisement looks like an advertisement, notice becomes a little less of an issue. That’s just one of the reasons I favor the IAB standard flavor of native advertising. Content within a standard ad unit is far less likely to be confused with unpaid media. Some may argue that this format is less effective than an advertorial that looks like editorial, but that’s generally not the case. Content within a standard ad unit can still be relevant and compelling. A movie trailer for “Ironman” is going to be just as awesome in an expanded IAB Filmstrip. An Instagram featuring Emma Watson rocking her new Burberry coat is going to get just as many ‘likes’ if it’s populating a module on an IAB Portrait – especially if it’s contextualized in Vogue and one of the other modules featuring editorial headlines about winter fashion trends.
While these native ads look less like editorial content, they can be customized to match the look, feel and functionality of a site – plus, they earn their weight (and then some) in relevance. Because these native ad units can be traded programmatically, they benefit from data-driven targeting and optimization. The content featured within the ads can be relevant to audience that sees them, and contextually relevant to the content on the page. So a native ad on Car and Driver can target moms in Chicago and feature an HD video of a Lexus SUV with a third row, driving through the snowy streets of the Windy City. The same ad shown to a businessman in New York can feature a video of a Lexus sedan driving over the GWB. The ad unit may be “standard,” but the content can be optimized for maximum relevance and impact. Optimizing the content within the unit is the key – not just optimizing the ad unit.
And of course, the advertorial content should still be identified as such. We shouldn’t have a problem with that. Google has gone so far as to highlight the “ad” label on its mobile search results pages. The company is confident that its native ads are relevant enough to earn clicks, regardless. Similarly, our focus should be on providing high-quality, compelling and relevant content that audiences are eager to consume – despite a “sponsored” label.