A Plea On Behalf Of Native

A couple of weeks ago, The Advertising Standards Authority made a ruling against Outbrain which has now is forcing publishers and technology platforms to review the labelling of paid content recommendations on their sites. Anyone who has read a couple of newspaper web stories has seen these widgets which punt paid content on publisher sites that tell readers they “might also like” one of several stories “from around the Web.”

Let’s be honest, in the majority of cases and despite the protestations of the vendors, they point the way to low quality content which quite often jars in the editorial context in which they are placed.

And as anyone who has sat through one of the multitude of native ad conferences that have taken place recently will know, the aim of native advertising is to sit within the publisher’s content flow in a natural way so as not to distract the reader.

With the new ruling, the native ad slots are very clearly labelled as advertiser or sponsor content. And I wonder if already we as readers are starting not to even notice. Are we getting the native equivalent of banner blindness?

I would contend that we need to look pretty quickly at how we work with native for it to have the impact we hoped for. As publishers, we welcomed native as it gave us back control of our sites, gave us a new revenue stream and, we thought, gave us an impetus to revisit our direct sponsor relationships.

But maybe we’re doing it wrong. At the recent IAB event, 60% of publishers in the UK use the sponsorship model. In other words, it’s basically advertorial. Surely we need some formats and styles that are innovative. And no, I’m not talking Lists here...

Native advertising should mean that brands can now innovate like never before. They are no longer constrained by the small text requirements and limited graphics of banner ads; or merely restricted to create a twenty second video. Now, it’s fair to say that most brands will continue to do these things too, of course, as they should, but native advertising should allow for a far deeper and richer level of engagement and innovation from brands when it comes to their marketing.

So, let’s challenge everybody to up their game here. Publishers need to think about the formats that they offer. Work with the agencies to come up with something better. Brands need to push their agencies and think harder about the content they want to put out there. And the media agencies need to look beyond the rate card and look at what works in terms of engagement. Lastly, where are the creative and design agencies in this? Come on guys, help us out here.

It seems to me that there is a massive opportunity in this area for creative growth. Never before has there been such an array of powerful interactive resources to engage with consumers using video, content and social while bringing brand values to life in a tangible and meaningful way. The big question is who will discover this first and being able to pull this off to win the Native Advertising race for consumers' minds and hearts.
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