One of the marketing buzzwords that has defined 2014 is ‘native advertising’. Lauded by some as a fundamental turning point in the evolution of digital advertising, and an important shift away from largely ineffectual banner ads, and dismissed by others, such as high profile media commentator Bob Garfield, as ‘something akin to bat poo’, native advertising certainly is a polarising topic.
A simple definition of native advertising is a paid ad that is so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the user experience that the viewer simply feels that it belongs.
When it is done well, native content is clearly from a ‘guest’ but the content is useful and relevant to readers. If something of value is delivered, then it generally matters little to the reader that the content is sponsored as long as the publisher and the brand are transparent about it. In fact a study from The University of San Francisco School of Law indicated that 50% of people surveyed did not even know what the term ‘sponsored content’ meant. There is a clear benefit for publisher, brand and reader when the planets align and native content is done well.
But when the reader, the publisher and brand content are misaligned, or the content is too sales-y, or the reader feels like the brand and publisher are trying to trick them by passing off ads as editorial, the backlash can be strong. So it is in everyone’s interest to get the balance right.
In celebration of 25 amazing years of innovation at QUT, BCM has brokered a major native advertising partnership which launched on thecouriermail.com.au site today, and which will be featured every day this week.
Thanks to QUT’s Tony Wilson and Janne Rayner, (and the extended communications team), who showed an amazing degree of trust, understanding of the need for editorial integrity and a true partnering approach, and the incredible passion and efforts of Editor Andrew Webster, we think we got the balance just right. It is great native content of genuine interest to the readers of The Courier-Mail site, which clearly meets the communication objectives of the paying client, QUT.
Like all new things there were some important learnings along the way that I’d like to share.
Genuine newsworthy content must be carefully mined to find the ’hook’. Journalists don’t want to be fed the story – they want to interrogate the information, speak to the source and ‘own’ the story. And that doesn’t change just because it is sponsored content. Done well, native advertising requires a large investment in time for both the client and the agency, so be prepared for that.
A journalist lives in a 24/7 world and the news never sleeps. So expect crafting and finessing of the content not only right up to publication, but also after it is live. The day before Monday is Sunday for a journalist, not the last business day, Friday, that we’re used to. This is quite a change in mindset for both client and agency alike.
Readers today expect rich video content and photography. If these assets don’t exist they will need creating. This has strong implications for publishers in resourcing up to capitalise on the native advertising opportunity.
Yes you can fact check it, but true native advertising is written in the voice of the publisher. And the publisher knows the reader best, and has much at stake by publishing content that could erode hard won trust. For clients this is a bit of a ‘leap of faith’ that may not be for everyone.
It is also a time of learning for publishers. Clearly, as evidenced by The New York Times’ recent refresh of their news site to accommodate native advertising, this is a revenue stream that will make a significant contribution to sagging bottom lines of publishers. But in doing so, the editorial teams will be increasingly exposed to advertisers and agencies, crossing the great divide between advertising and editorial that has stood for centuries. So we’ll need to collectively figure out the new rules of engagement that work for both parties.
Native advertising – the future or a load of bat poo – what do you think?
Jo Stone is Director of Strategy at BCM