Native: Three Digital Steps To Avoid Print's Mistakes

Editor's Note: The following column was first published on our London Blog.

Native advertising is the way forward. It really is that simple. In an age of banner blindness, the way to attract attention is to be front and center rather than inside an MPU. 

Even with something so simple as brands putting their messages across in content they have paid to create and to place, there still seems to be room for the online marketing industry to get it wrong. Research today reveals that one in three consumers are confused as to whether they have just read native or editorial.

Considering that native offers the best chance to get noticed, particularly in mobile, this finding is very troubling for brands. But this is not a new development. It has been seen in print -- and continues to be an issue.

I have written for companies that produce supplements  inserted within national newspapers, and the lengths I went to to try to explain publishing laws around advertorials were extensive and largely ignored. That's why it's only very recently that you'll find the third party supplements which fall out of a newspaper have started to mention they are "ad supported" -- or, more rarely, feature "Advertising Feature" next to an article's headline.



Trust me -- for years these supplements were going out without reference to their content being paid-for advertorial. The bit I'm going to pat myself on the back for here is that this had an obvious impact. Readers didn't trust "editorial" that looked paid for and so it was largely ignored, particularly when the only company quoted in the article just happened to be advertising right next to the article.

The knock-on effect was that the publishers of these articles eventually had to begin putting some form of disclaimer within their supplements, and as I predicted all along, the big news brands realized that if they are distributing these supplements, people associate the content with their brand image. Thus, you might as well do it yourself and get it right. Decent supplements with responsibly labelled warnings of advertorial content, 

The way things were going, nobody won. Advertisers were not being transparent, readers didn't trust the content and the media brands looked like they were trying to hoodwink consumers -- the fact they were merely distributing the content, not creating it, was a point lost on most readers.

So the guys who originally saw the gap in the market for native content to be distributed by print newspapers are struggling, from what I see, to make the transition to online where media owners are taking over the process. 

The Guardian is a very good example. It has a massive native team that publishes articles and runs content hubs for brands in a way that is highly professional, legal and transparent. The content is left to professionals to prevent brands turning it in to sales pitches, meaning they get engaging copy which is clearly labelled as sponsored.

While media owners have largely got their own house in order, though, they seem to have been blindsided by native platforms which, in some cases, do to their good name exactly what the print "chancers: were doing just a few years ago.

It's a remarkably similar situation and there are three very simple points that need consideration to protect what could be a golden route to reach engaged consumers.

1. Publishers should grow a proverbial 'pair'. They've been far too quick to allow third parties to take over a portion of their page, typically underneath an article, which feature the loosest of references to the fact the article might be paid content - such as "More From Around The Web." Media owners need to dictate the terms of engagement because it's their brand at the top of the page.

2. Advertisers need to look after their image. It always amazes me the great lengths they go to to ensure their adverts only end up where they are comfortable appearing compared to how they allow content they have created to hoodwink consumers. I think most consumers realize an advertiser never has control over the content on the page they appear on and they realize that with the way ads are sprayed around the net, the odd mistake will happen. I'm not saying brand safety isn't important but what I am saying is consumers will judge a brand more harshly if they don't protect their image in a process they should have full control over: placing their content on a third-party site. 

So brands, if your paid-for content is out there mascarading as editorial You need to take steps. It's down to you to ensure it features a disclaimer.

3 The platforms also need to step up to the plate here. Brands and publishers have been like kids in a sweet shop. The exact same thing happened in print until the publishers and advertisers scoffed their faces right until the point they needed a mouthful of fillings.

So unless the platforms take better control of this, they will find themselves on the unfortunate side of media owners and advertisers going direct to ensure transparency is observed and brand image maintained.

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