Why It's Critical We Get The Definition of Native Advertising Right

All the noise surrounding native advertising complicates a very simple concept.  Have no fear, publishers and brand marketers, native advertising is easy to understand -- and execute at scale -- with the right technology.  Native is a great way to invigorate digital advertising, and it’s not the least bit confusing. 

The Online Publishers Association (OPA) findings on defining native advertising matter because, when considered together, they represent best-practice guidelines that provides the most critical element of native: a positive consumer experience.

In digital, nothing trumps the consumer experience – it’s the main driver of user satisfaction, trust and loyalty.  Readers expect integrity, and trust that a publisher provides content that comes from an unbiased team of expert editors.  Within this context, when publishers and marketers get native right, all stakeholders benefit: publishers monetize, agencies deliver results, and brands break through with consumers. This virtuous circle is achievable 100% of the time if all stakeholders follow the OPA findings.



Focusing on only one or two of these elements alone, however, leads to failure -- and trouble. For example, The Atlantic found itself in hot water when it ran sponsored content about Scientology that only included positive reader comments, skewing the transparency between sponsored and editorial content. Lesson learned: consumers are savvy, and a poor consumer experience quickly leads to backlash and negative sentiment, counteracting publisher and advertiser goals -- bad things for everyone involved.

Defining Native – It’s Simple

OPA’s seven points provide a simple framework of guidelines for native advertising. Here’s how to implement each one:

1. Integration into the design of the publisher’s site, living on the same domain. Simplified: Brand content matches the cosmetic look and feel of the site and resembles the surrounding editorial content, not to confuse consumers but to avoid their seeing something visually  “disruptive” or out of place. 

2. Content either provided by, produced in conjunction with, or created on behalf of, our advertisers, which runs within the editorial stream.  Simplified: Whether written in the brand-voice, by a publisher content team, or combination of the two, brand content runs in-stream alongside editorial content, and anywhere else editorial content is promoted to users. Rendering in-stream eliminates the need to distract the audience in order to gain their attention.

3. Clear delineation and labeling as advertising content. Simplified: Content is always clearly disclosed as “sponsored” or ”promoted.” In some cases, the brand may be listed as author.  However the publisher chooses to disclaim the content, it is clear to consumers that the content comes from or is supported by a brand.

4. Editorial value to the reader, conforming to the reader’s expectations. Simplified: a) Consumers learn something or benefit in some way from the content -- i.e., brand content is useful and provides value and/or utility to users; and b) clicking on brand content yields an expected experience; the reading experience takes place within the publisher domain (see #1). This is why we recommend a viewable CPM (vCPM) pricing model on the headline or article preview, versus a CPC. This model forces brands to think in terms of engagement and delivering value.

5. Contextually relevant, non-standard advertising units.  Simplified: Brand content is distributed alongside contextually relevant editorial content. Contextual relevancy is not just about content; it’s about the frame-of-mind of the consumer. Brand content should align with what the consumer is already consuming and/or looking for on the site.

6. Content marketing such as sponsored sites, games, infographics, etc. Simplified: Native is more than delivering a hard-sell marketing message. It is the packaging of relevant content that adds value to the user (see #4).  Value can be delivered in many formats: full-text editorial, and visually via infographics, motion graphics and video – a combination of which typically yields the best results.

7. Highly automated advertising content such as sponsored stories, publisher tweets, etc. Simplified: For feed-based publishers or aggregators, where users expect to leave the site to consume discovered content, sponsored stories and tweets fit the site design, and deliver an expected experience on clicks that take users offsite to access content (see #1 & #4).

Benefits All Stakeholders

History has proven that when publishers and marketers compromise the user experience, consumers not only revolt, they take proactive steps to avoid advertising, and actively shift their usage behaviors and loyalties.

Getting the definition of native right is critical to success for all stakeholders. If advertisers know how to leverage the category to deliver results and ROI, publishers can more effectively monetize their content, and consumers benefit from an enhanced user experience where advertising is helpful and enabling rather than disruptive and annoying. When executed correctly, native advertising meets the most important bottom line: Everyone is happy.

3 comments about "Why It's Critical We Get The Definition of Native Advertising Right".
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  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, December 12, 2013 at 2:24 p.m.

    Native advertising is like letting a sponsor at a baseball game pitch an inning.

    Writing is a talent, not a reward for spending enough money, and I am sorry Justin, but having you -- a person who runs a native advertising company, write this column is an ironic indication of how far off course we have fallen.


  2. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, December 12, 2013 at 3:03 p.m.

    Your group, OPA, is missing the most important point/rule. Honesty and integrity. Why do I say this? The reason is one of the biggest advertisers told me by telephone to take down legit and quality banner ads. They were referring to a major competitor of theirs. Who gives the right or even legit right to extend their anti-competitive views? The last I knew this was against federal anti-trust laws. This issues started nearly two years ago and this company retaliated against Sweepstakes Today big time. The amount lost? try $40,000 on the low side to $60,000 on the high side. I did give this company the satisfaction of giving them the middle finger because I wasn't going to give in to their extortion. OPA, I think you will want to hear the rest of the story before issuing your points.

  3. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, December 12, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

    There is only one winning strategy for successful publishing initiatives whether it is a newsletter, a consumer publication or a branded content engagement tool: Your reader is your client. Period. Stray from that and 'disingenuous' has a scent that repels.

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