Have Guidelines Arrived Just In Time To Save Native?

Following yesterday's news that native advertising was dipping in consumer trust levels -- yet is still one of the most trusted channels -- it's good to see the IAB UK taking steps to restore trust in the ad format. It's important for the very obvious reason that with display so openly challenged by ad blocking -- particularly among millennials -- getting in the editorial flow is going to be increasingly the way to go, particularly for brands wanting to inform and entertain.

Now here's a confession. I thought the guidelines the IAB UK is bringing in today were already in place. Turns out they kind of are, but for native distribution -- such as a Facebook post or promotional tweet -- rather than the placement of native content within a flow of articles on a publisher's site.

So today's guidelines will sound pretty familiar, and they focus on two key points. First, native must have a visual clue such as a brand logo or a brand name being displayed as being behind the article. Secondly, native must be clearly labelled as "brought to you by" or being a "sponsored article." As the IAB UK states, these reflect established best practice, rather like most of the guidelines the body promotes it looks for responsible behaviour and encourages its wider adoption through guidelines.

For me, the big surprise was that this wasn't already a native content guidelines, but rather a guideline for native distribution. It's quite easy to get confused by all these different terms, isn't it? Essentially, today's guidelines are there to ensure users can easily distinguish editorial content from the sponsored articles they are rubbing shoulders with. As such, the guidelines come with widespread input, including the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), the voice of the British Advertiser, ISBA and the Advertising Standards Authority. In other words, they have the backing of adland, publishing, advertisers and the advertising regulator.

It's important to have a best practices guide out there because native was worth half a billion pounds last year and is only set to grow as digital marketers find a way to circumvent ad blocking on desktop and mobile devices. Yet at the same time, Nielsen showed yesterday that native was losing consumer trust. It's still up there with company Web sites and just below customer reviews on trust levels, but of all the digital channels, it has dropped in confidence the most over the last two years. That must be worrisome for a route to market on which so many are placing so much hope as we enter a mobile-first environment in which ad blocking is on the rise.

Like any code, these measures can only police the good guys who don't want to trick their readers into consuming paid-for content passing itself off as editorial. But sadly, that's the only role that guidelines can play. They're not laws, but a summation of best practices that brands and agencies would do well to abide by if they are not going to shoot the proverbial golden goose.

Now that we have guidelines, let's make sure that the serious money follows the reputable publishers to ensure that consumer trust is rewarded with clearly labelled articles which can still go on to entertain and inform as they seek to guide customer behaviour in an open and transparent way. It's the only way we're going to find out if trust continues to decline -- or as adland hopes, can rally.

1 comment about "Have Guidelines Arrived Just In Time To Save Native?".
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  1. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), September 30, 2015 at 12:33 p.m.

    Sean: could not agree more on needing guidelines in place prior to ruining the party for all advertisers by eroding consumer trust and acceptance via bad practices. But it would behove the IAB to try and do this globally. Having said that, I am afraid the industry globally does not want to be regulated... As I wrote on MediaPost on Monday, the strategy to catch evading and escaing consumers seems to be "gotcha" via whatever means. You ad block me? I will native you!

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