Native advertising: everybody’s doing it.
It should come as no surprise that digital consumers dislike the medley of banners, pop-ups, and screen-consuming advertisements that have become part and parcel of everyday Internet browsing. In fact, according to a recent survey by eMarketer, more than 25% of Internet users rely on an ad blocker to ward off such unwanted and often tone-deaf solicitations. And while it’s easy to see why ad-blocking tools are so popular, their prevalence begs the question: what direct-to-consumer resources are left in a brand’s arsenal?
Sponsored content has been the subject of much industry speculation in recent years, with some brands celebrating the shift and others struggling to keep up. So how can native advertising be leveraged effectively by brands of all sizes? Let’s take a look at the suite of native options currently available to advertisers, the brands that have already embraced this new medium, and the publishers and agencies executing these innovative campaigns:
Bridge the Gap Between Advertising and Entertainment
Streaming giant Netflix makes excellent use of its native advertising capabilities with innovative campaigns designed around their diverse series portfolio. In September 2015, the company partnered with the branded content division at the Wall Street Journal to build hype for its series “Narcos” with original reporting, video interviews, graphics, photos, and an interactive map telling the story of cocaine as a business. The article was interactive, engaging, and creative. Perhaps most importantly, the campaign offered real value that was of interest to WSJ’s existing audience. With this initiative, Netflix embodied the key to a successful native campaign: offering consumers high-quality content experiences that move past the oft-stigmatized “advertorial” label.
Leave Execution to the Experts
In response to this demand for high quality sponsored content, and as written stories, videos, quizzes, and podcasts have been rapidly swept into traditional media companies’ purview, publishers large and small have invested in teams to create native campaigns in-house. This shift gives advertisers the opportunity to work directly with publishers to create tailor-made brand experiences, rather than outsourcing this work to a traditional external agency. As the New York Times describes it, “the resulting arrangements are more client-agency than advertiser-publisher, and advertisers are looking to media companies for a full range of services, from the production of campaigns to the often paid-for placement of the content across the internet and social media.”
Content Distribution: The Great Social Migration
Content distribution in today’s social media-dominated consumption environment has become tricky terrain for the publishers in question. As more consumers turn to their newsfeeds for content, Facebook has become a primary distributor for many publications’ sponsored posts.
Facebook’s ubiquity has posed challenges for publishers who create native content for advertisers; for a competitive price, social platforms offer advertisers large, targeted consumer groups that diminish the value of publishers’ own channels. “With a weaker claim over audiences, publishers have been left to compete for advertising on different terms, leaning less on the size or demographics of their readerships, and more on the sorts of campaigns they can engineer for advertisers,” says the New York Times. As Facebook’s native advertising policies continue to evolve, some publishers remain troubled by how much power the distribution process and shared engagement data places in the hands of advertisers.
Despite Facebook’s dominance, there are still ways to innovate on other social platforms. Social media influencers have quickly learned how to monetize their loyal followings, and are increasingly open to working with brands on sponsored posts.
Identify influencers whose aesthetic and personality align with your brand, and explore the potential benefits of developing partnered posts tailored to their style and voice. When executed in line with FTC’s social media-specific guidelines, a synergistic influencer partnership can introduce your brand to new audiences. “It’s a conversation that they can have almost nonstop through the day, every day, over the course of 365 days a year,” Edward East, CEO of influencer-marketing company Billion Dollar Boy, told Business Insider. Influencers can engage in constant, real-time dialogue with consumers — something that your brand may not be capable of doing on its own.
Will sponsored content ever fully replace the revenue generated by traditional advertising? While it may be too soon to tell where exactly this work in progress is headed, it’s exciting to explore how the medium and its many players will continue to adapt and evolve over the coming years.