Why Native Advertising Is Great Advertising

In this election year we’ve had our fair share of debates. They have been entertaining but rarely informative. What has gotten lost in this “I’m right, you’re wrong” debate style is that in a true debate, two sides present their version of the facts and the judges, whoever they may be, determine which side has presented the most persuasive argument.

One of the hottest debates in media today is centered on native advertising. As an advertising professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, I sit in the middle of that debate. With advertising and public relations professors on one side and journalists on the other, it’s clear that everyone has their version of the facts.

In an effort to rise above the American political discourse, I’ll put forth the top five reasons why native advertising is the best thing to happen to the media industry now and for the future. Feel free to disagree with the conclusions drawn from the facts, but these are the reasons why native advertising is great.



Consumers prefer it:  Research has proven that consumers are more likely to look at native content vs. traditional banner ads. Research from IPG and Sharethrough in 2013 showed that people actually looked at native content 52% more frequently than banner ads.  In fact, native content was looked at slightly more than the same content presented as editorial.  Native content is seeing click-through rates that are at least double those of traditional banner ads.

Consumers find it beneficial: A 2016 IPG/Forbes/Newhouse study (that I co-authored) found that 22% of people perceive native advertising as intended to educate, versus only 4% seeing banner ads as teachable moments. Consumers are also less likely to classify native content as an “ad” and are equally as likely to find it appealing.

They trust it: When native content is clearly labeled and seen as quality content, consumers report higher trust in the brand. This is according to a study conducted by Contently last year. Interestingly, consumers report less trust of “branded content” overall, with a loss in credibility for the source — but when presented with quality branded content, the impact is more positive.   

They remember it:  The IPG/Forbes/Newhouse study found even higher rates of recall for branded content than in IPG’s original study with Sharethrough in 2013. Unaided recall went up 76%: from 26% in 2013 ,to 46% in 2016. Aided recall was 66% in the later study, compared to only 49% in 2013.

They respond positively to it: One of the biggest arguments against branded content is that it diminishes the trust between the consumer and the brand and/or the publisher. Research just hasn’t been able to demonstrate consistent proof of that. Netflix has been one of the most prolific branded content marketers to date, and it just announced forecast-busting subscriber additions for Q3. In fact, in the 2016, IPG  study, purchase intent doubled among people exposed to branded content -- and almost tripled when that content was presented in conjunction with banner ads.

I believe in journalistic integrity; I believe in a free press. In order for the press to be free to inform the public, it must have a sustainable business model. The traditional ad model is proving unsustainable.

People bemoaned television advertising in the beginning. The 30-second ad was going to corrupt people with misinformation -- and God help us when the 15-second ad arrived.

We, as a society, have survived advertising since the beginning of time. I don’t believe we will survive without a business model to sustain journalism. If branded content can sell product and contribute to the revenues of publishers, what’s wrong with that?

You tell me.

7 comments about "Why Native Advertising Is Great Advertising".
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  1. Suzanne Hermalyn from self, November 4, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    I will try to not be personally insulting in my response.  I do have  few words here:  Trump and the fake news people happen from "Native", glad my kids do not go to Syracuse, and your supposition makes no sense.  Your "research" stats here assume that the consumer clearly knows that the "article" is paid for, but they do not.  Native is not naked:  it is shrowded in the disguise of real editorial and not clearly marked in many places.   If you are talking about an article on hand cream, ok then less damage is done by native.  However what about native content on health issues, national security, climate change and yes, Clinton emails?  You also cannot compare consumers' view on banners vs. shrowded fake news content.  We have a huge problem in our country with misinformed citizens reading/watching "fake" news/info.  In 2025 we will look back at our "Idiocracy" nation and see that "native" had its fingerprints all over our  dumbed down, dangerous society.  The solution to media poverty is not native, unless you have a very different definition of what our media will be.

  2. Mara Einstein from Black Ops Advertising (Author), November 4, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    I could not disagree with you more.

    After presenting the research from my book, Black Ops Advertising, to dozens of college audiences made up of the Millennials who are supposed to be hip to native advertising and even this week presenting to a professional audience in Silicon Valley, I tell you that people definitely do NOT know they are looking at corporate sponsored content. I am sure you also know that research from Bart Wojdynski and Nathan Evans from the University of Georgia showed that less than 20 percent of consumers knew they were reading sponsored content. In addition, Chris Hoofnagle and his colleagues at Berkeley had slightly higher numbers (around 23 percent), but that entailed aided questioning.

    So to your first point, consumers can't "prefer" what they do not know exists.

    Second, banner ads are not meant to be "teachable moments." They are reminder advertising in the same way that billboards are. This research is an unfair comparison.

    Third, being clearly label is a major issue in this area. Note, for example, the cover story of the New York Times about Kim Kardashian and Instagram ( I could, of course, provide many more. 

    Finally, Netflix comes up again and again in the research as a great example, but it is an outlier. It is a company that produces entertainment so by default, one might argue, their content should be entertaining.

    As someone who has worked in television and advertising for more than a decade before becoming an academic, I work hard to bring balance to my work. It is always in the interest of providing consumer agency while helping marketers do their jobs better. Native advertising and content marketing have their place. But, as practiced now, they are subversive and detrimental to the workings of our democracy. Much in the same way Donald Trump is loose with facts, so too is native advertising. 

    To paraphrase Edward Snowden: arguing that you don't care where content comes from is no different than saying you don't care about the truth.

  3. Gregg Hamilton from GRH Consulting, November 4, 2016 at 12:52 p.m.

    Wow.  I'm surprised at the quick-draw hostility that this Op-Ed provoked. No doubt there are good and bad examples of native advertising.  I'll define "good" as being transparent, truthful and informative, and "bad" as opaque (as to source and sponsor) and fast and loose with the facts. I suspect that each reader will bring their own perception of native advertising (and good and bad examples) based on their personal experience and bias.  So, a commentary such as this (and the ensuing Comments) needs to reference and display live examples, else there is unlikely to be any consensus or learning.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 4, 2016 at 4:59 p.m.

    Suzanne and Mara: The world should thank you for your insights, your great commentary and ability to keep it civil. 

  5. Beth Donnelly Egan from Syracuse University replied, November 5, 2016 at 7:39 a.m.

    Gregg, thank you for your comment and for apparently reading the third paragraph.

  6. Bo Sacks from Precision Media Group, November 7, 2016 at 3:03 p.m.

    At almost every speaking engagement I go to, I’m asked for my opinion about native advertising. My answer is that I don’t like it, not one bit. Native advertising, sponsored content and all the iterations therein, are simply there to deceive to the public. How many in the general reading public knows what “Sponsored Content” actually is, even when it is properly labeled?  These manifestations of hidden advertising are desperate business acts by desperate business people.

     Proof of this stratagem happened the day the industry stopped using the known and accepted “Advertorial” and started using native in its place. Why did we as an industry make that change if not to hide our subterfuge.  I laughed at the question of which was liked better banner ads or native content. That is the choice of a poke in the eye or a slap on the wrist. The wrist wins every time. 

  7. Tom Foremski from Silicon Valley Watcher, December 1, 2016 at 5:59 p.m.

    Native advertising is an incredibly bad practice. The Brands are poisoning the well. Readers trust media less when they see native advertising. Why would brands seek to damage the trust in a media title they rely on for advertsing messages?! The New York Times in particular, should stop now. Its selling its future for a handful of beans and there is no beanstalk and no golden goose in this story. Just more pain in the newsroom and less trust. Fake news? No one trusts any news today. It's all seen as corrupt. Which is a very bad state of affairs indeed. 

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