Native's Massive Opportunity Will Be Missed Without Honesty

Nobody minds being sold to. In fact, they quite like it. That's why advertising works. What they object to is being conned -- or more likely, moderately hoodwinked.

It happens all the time. From constantly checking and referencing the smartwatch he has created on The Voice, and subsequent chat shows asking him about The Voice, to those What's On guides put through the letterbox, where the advertisers seem to somehow also be the leading voice in editorial articles.

Trust me-- I've had many a conversation with publishers about this and they generally seem more than willing to stick their heads in the sand and ignore the questionable legality of thinly disguised advertorial, just as long as brands keep insisting advertising should lead to editorial inclusion.

Digital is all about treating people like grownups and realising that consumers are more savvy than ever and willing to make snap judgements that will be shared at the click of a button with hundreds of friends and followers online. Next time you get free content falling out of your newspaper or on to your doormat, just go through and check the interviewees against the advertisers. They usually make this pretty easy by stupid (and I use the word advisedly) advertisers insisting their editorial mention goes next to their advert. I think you'll agree stupid is about the right word?

With national newspaper print advertising forecast to drop 10% this year and local newspaper revenues falling off a similar cliff, these pressures will only intensify.

So for native to survive it just has to do a very simple thing. Be honest.

For digital content to succeed it has to do one thing. Be helpful.

So, you've probably guess the next line. For native digital to succeed it needs to be helpful and honest. It needs to entertain or inform (preferable both) -- but be transparent that it is appearing because of a commercial relationship between the publisher and advertisers.

There is nothing wrong in allowing brands to speak for themselves. Editorial pages are full of opinion pieces and columns written by experts within brands and articles will routinely use them to add an opinion to an article.

So brands taking control of the messaging and paying to appear is a natural progression.

Trouble is, there are always people who don't "get it" and who think the public is stupid and won't mind be directed to additional content with a 'more from the Web' or "we recommend." This practice has thankfully been outlawed by the ASA through its ruling against Outbrain. 

Google has tried for years to police this in search through its "no follow" link advice and punishments handed to brands who pay for links which are set up to affect their SEO results. It's often hard to prove whether a link was really bought but, with an entire article, it's a lot easier.

Native is a massive opportunity for brands to move beyond banner blindness and reach out to consumers with helpful insights which, of course, the reader knows is ultimately trying to sign them up as a customer. But so long as they know, who cares?

The industry has a massive potential problem here and, fortunately the answer is incredibly simple. A couple of words like "commercial feature" will add the transparency and leave the content team to ensure the article or video is so well pitched to the target audience that people click through. 

Honest and transparency are two very simple words. So are "commercial feature."
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