With Ad-Blocking Rife, Native Can't Afford More Mistakes

Native has never been more needed -- and there has never been more of a need for brands and publishers to get transparency right. The most interesting facts from research are often not the key finding that is highlighted in the headlines.

Reuters reports that very nearly four in ten UK Web users now have ad-blocking technology. This seems high, and it's certainly higher than the 30% reported for the United States. However, an interesting secondary -- but very much related -- finding is that a third of Web users report feeling disappointed or cheated when they find out that content has been sponsored by a brand.

If people are going to increasingly install ad-blocking technology, then it is clear that brands will see native advertising as a means of getting around the troublesome software and get their messages within the content stream itself where it cannot be blocked. Clearly, this is already happening, but the major point must be that it cannot cause confusion or disappointment, because that backfires on both the brand and the publisher.

The good news is that just over half of those surveyed by Reuters get the value exchange of native advertising. Just over half said they understand that it is there to support free editorial -- and although they're not keen on this, they understand the commercial reality. Although that is positive, a quarter of Web users think less of a publisher and a brand for getting into bed with one another.

So we pretty much have a split down the middle (very roughly speaking) of people who understand why native is there, and who tolerate it, while we have a quarter who think less of both sides involved and roughly a third who feel let down by reading something that turns out to be sponsored.

Clearly, winning over the less keen, and even disappointed or disapproving, half of the market is in the hands of publishers and brand. I'd actually caution, it's arguably more in the hands of the publishers than it is the brands because it is their sites which will suffer if transparency is not very clearly put at the heart of their approach.

That means the various guidelines that are out there are utlilised to ensure native is clearly distinguishable. This can include being labelled 'Promotional Feature' or "Advertising Feature" or "Brought to you brand x" -- whatever the form of words, there needs to be a clear statement that this is not regular editorial. Similarly, guidelines suggest a different font or perhaps a different background shading is used to help it stand out.

With native clearly labelled, not only do you avoid annoying reader, but you also put pressure on the content to deliver a truly interesting or entertaining message with impactful visuals and a punchy headline. People will be wary of clicking on what is essentially an advertorial, and so labelling it as such means a publisher and brand's content teams are going to have to go the extra mile to ensure they are rewarding the reader's attention with something that is truly worth reading, while getting in their own plug. Get it right, and readers understand that a carmaker had a reason to write about the world's best golf courses, because it's latest car is big enough to take two golf bags, or a leisure company was revealing interesting facts about Greek Gods because it's selling trips to the very islands where the events took place.

This simply means that brands have to go the extra mile and think beyond themselves and their own agenda. Unlike advertising, you can't just pay to be noticed, you have to earn it and that means weaving your message in to the fabric of a Web user's interests and curiosity. 

If more publishers and brands get this right, an increasing proportion will learn to accept the need for native and even start to interact with brands on a deeper level than simply ignoring their latest money off voucher offer flashing in a square box at the top of the screen they are doing all they can to ignore, or even block.

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