Online publishers are facing a serious problem: They’re not making enough money. Mashable recently sold for a scant $50 million (even though it was recently valued at $250 million), BuzzFeed is on pace to miss its 2017 revenue target by 15 to 20%, and Vice is expected to fall roughly $800 million short of its target this year, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Brands like these are struggling because the advertising isn’t connecting with consumers. Ten years ago, the term "native advertising" was understood by few. Fast-forward to 2017, and native ad spending has increased by 74% over the past year, according to a report from MediaRadar.
Consumers are seeing a lot more native ads, which means they’re becoming wiser to how native advertising works. There’s a native ad around almost everything, and people are becoming more skeptical of all editorial as a result. That doesn’t necessarily mean native advertising is ineffective, but it’s going to take more than just words or a nice video to influence a relationship with a consumer.
How Chasing Revenue Cheapened the User Experience
When users browse the web, they see hundreds of advertisements within the span of a few minutes. Many of these are what I call the teeth whiteners or the muscle builders — the brands that just want you to give them a credit card number. That’s not a content experience; it just feels really scummy.
Even the homepage of CNN creates a poor impression. Lending Tree owns an entire section of the CNN Finance page, just as Healthgrades owns a part of the wellness section. Modern readers no longer see valuable content; they see just another ad that they've been trained to skip.
This thirst for additional revenue has cheapened the user experience and chipped away at the credibility of the native advertising landscape as a whole. Now readers look at every piece of content with a healthy dose of skepticism, and even if those Lending Tree financial articles do provide valuable information, many readers can’t see past the fact that they’re advertisements.
How to Fix Native Ads
Marketers should treat native advertising as one part of a larger integrated strategy. Native alone is not enough, just as product integrations are not enough. Marketers must take a full 360-degree approach, providing better content that leads to higher engagement and higher revenue.
Customers listen more closely to brands that integrate themselves within an influential topic or community they care about. For example, Mike’s Hard Lemonade recently shifted its campaign focus to better reach its target audience. Thanks to a campaign featuring surprise visits from rapper Lil Dicky and alcohol delivery service Drizly, it increased its brand favorability and purchase consideration among its target demographic.
FedEx, another successful advertiser, keeps its brand image high through its partnership with the NFL. Fans love voting for their favorite players to earn the FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Week awards, and as a result, FedEx essentially owns football.
Experiences like these are more than ads or events — they’re fully integrated 360-degree experiences. Participants don’t simply tolerate the ads; they interact with them willingly.
Publishers must stop putting technology and revenue above their community's experience. Consumers are willing to interact with brands, but they want experiences — not advertisements. By listening to what people want and delivering 360-degree experiences, marketers can increase the value of their content without sacrificing revenue in the process.