Native Advertising: Three Rules For Success

“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity,

To seize everything you ever wanted -- one moment --

Would you capture it or just let it slip?” -- Eminem

While this is the line Eminem may be best remembered for, I’d like to hijack it as a rallying cry for the nascent field of native advertising. On Dec 4 the FTC is holding a hearing on native ads that will certainly shine a spotlight and lay the foundation for how the industry should coalesce.

I define native advertising as “paying for the opportunity to become part of a consumer’s experience on a publisher’s editorial platform, where the brand’s content is seamlessly integrated into the publisher’s environment.” 

This definition is updated from what I heard at one of the first native advertising conferences almost a year ago.  And while the nuances of the definition may still be debated, the opportunity of native advertising is concrete.



As an industry, we have a collective opportunity to make native advertising everything we ever wanted in a digital advertising format. Why?

First, native ads are great for the publisher. Three out of four publishers already offer native advertising on their site, and nearly a fifth are considering offering one this coming year.

Second, they are meaningful for brands. Almost universally, U.S. digital professionals call native mobile ads for branding campaigns very or somewhat effective -- and, even more important, such ads bring value to the consumer.  Consumers look at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads. Native ads also registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift in brand affinity compared to display ads.

But like any new form of content, effective native advertising takes acumen and careful coordination from both the publisher and the brand marketer. It is a very delicate balance. It’s easy to fall off a cliff. Still, when deployed effectively:

  • Publishers win, because readers knows that the publisher understands them, right down to the advertising they are being served.
  • Advertisers win, because the engagement is meaningful, value-added, and ultimately provides greater affinity for the brand or business objective,
  • Consumers win because their time is rewarded with better, more relevant content.

 So how to make native advertising a success?  Here are the basic rules:

1)   Be transparent: Clearly identify native advertising as distinct from other content. Some publications go as far as to place it in separate sections or sidebars.

2)   Act like a journalist: Good native advertising is written as a writer working as an editor for a publisher, not a copywriter for an  agency.

3)   Know your context: Work with the publisher to really understand the context of the native advertising placement. 

The problem is, most advertisers have yet to approach native advertising with the necessary understanding of these requirements.  The risk our industry faces is that bad native advertising trains the consumer to glance past it – muscle memory at its worst. It may create a short-term increase in response and impact, but over time the consumer will wise up. In doing so, the editorial integrity of that brand, publisher and eventually native advertising itself will forever be damaged.  As David Ogilvy said, the consumer is not a moron; as Eminem said, you only have one shot.

Native advertising is still new, so as an industry we can seize this opportunity by elevating our native advertising standards. If we raise the bar high, we may just create a new marketing format that serves value to the consumer, the publisher and the brand concurrently -- one that will undoubtedly stick around for generations to come.

Will we, as an industry, seize this opportunity or just let it slip? Let’s get our act together and do something great.

4 comments about "Native Advertising: Three Rules For Success".
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  1. Hank Stewart from Green Team, December 4, 2013 at 2:10 p.m.

    Dan, you nailed it with the first rule of native advertising success, be transparent. If native advertising is not obviously ADVERTISING, it moves into the realm of sleaziness, and will forever lose whatever bit of credibility it ever had--and, as you aptly point out, drag down the publication with it.

    In all honesty, I'm not a big fan of native advertising because of the high potential it carries for misleading or deceiving the reader. I think it could lead to a huge backlash against brands that participate in it, and rightly so--sounds like I'm channeling my inner-Bob Garfield here.

    That being said, if native advertising is fully transparent, consumers will at least have the opportunity to make their own decisions as to whether it's sleazy or simply "better, more relevant content."

  2. Robert McEvily from MediaPost, December 4, 2013 at 2:19 p.m.

    So the native advertising soap opera is told and unfolds...

    I suppose it's old partner, but the beat goes on...

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, December 4, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.

    Transparency as rule #1? Perhaps you should heed your own advice: "Consumers look at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads. Native ads also registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift in brand affinity compared to display ads." What a load of unsubstantiated crap.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 4, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.

    Once upon a time there was three bears, each one with a different brand of porridge, chairs and beds. What you call native advertising passing off as not an ad is rather a dim view of intelligence or plain ignorance. Keep drinking that kool aide and see where it prejudice, false gods, alienation and out right lies. Snake oil still sells. You bought it.

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