The marketing world constantly needs to change and develop in order to keep up with new developments in the consumer world. From new channels to new techniques, the next thing in marketing is always on the way.
Today, it’s native advertising.
Recently, this new form of online content marketing gained notoriety when John Oliver covered the topic on his HBO comedy show, Last Week Tonight.
It’s a great piece, highly entertaining, and pretty informative for a comedy show. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching it!
But the main reason this bit has gotten so much attention from marketers is that Oliver calls us out and makes it seem like trusted media outlets are giving up their editorial integrity for money.
Everyone has their own thoughts and feelings about this “accusation,” and I could probably write a whole other article about it. Instead, I want to focus on what native advertising is and how marketers are currently using it effectively, so you can then form your own conclusions about the moral implications of its use.
What is native advertising?
According to Sharethrough, native advertising is:
“A form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”
Natural form and function? Huh? Of course a marketing definition is complicated!
Basically, if the ad experience follows the “natural form,” it matches the design and look of where it’s being shown. If the ad experience follows the “natural function,” it behaves just like the existing content around it. So when these two criteria are combined, the ad blends in with the surrounding content, making it seem less like an ad and more like any other piece of content on the site.
A great example is a Facebook news feed ad. It reads just like anything else you’d find on your news feed, and it will keep you on Facebook if clicked. Usually, these types of posts come from brands you haven’t “Liked” yet.
How is it used?
So obviously, it’s no secret how beneficial native advertising is to online outlets for increasing revenue. And since native ads are viewed 53% more than banner ads, its benefits shouldn’t be a secret to marketers!
The tricky part of creating a native ad that will give you those numbers is keeping these two important words in mind: form and function. If the ad doesn’t follow the natural form and function of the user experience, then it’s not a native ad and you won’t see those stellar results.
Here are a few great examples of native ads:
Buzzfeed is an immensely popular site for fun, but informative content. Brands took note of the site’s success and started publishing their own content. The posts are labeled “Sponsored” and the author is clearly a company, as seen above with Nordstrom Rack. Other than that, the posts have the same look and feel as any other article on Buzzfeed, following that very important “form and function” needed for native advertising.
Another fun site, The Onion is a satirical news outlet that sometimes fools the best of us into thinking that Brazil is selling their World Cup stadiums on Craigslist. But they too participate in native advertising. As seen above, the post is clearly sponsored, and the outlet has a little fun with “allowing” it to be published with a statement by the publisher. Again, just like Buzzfeed, the rest of the article matches the same user experience as any other article on The Onion, including the satirical tone.
But native advertising isn’t just for fun, time-wasting websites. Forbes now has “BrandVoice,” an “innovative approach to integrating marketers’ content with Forbes’ editorial and users’ content.” In other words, native advertising.
Below is an example of Oracle’s submission on the platform:
It looks exactly like any other article you would find on Forbes, but it’s an ad; Oracle became a member of the BrandVoice community in order to reach its audience there, for a fee. Sure, the article is informative and people will read it, but it’s a clear picture of why consumers think native advertising is wrong and unethical. Oracle paid to be published similarly to an editorial piece in a media outlet that’s supposed to inform the public, not sell to them.
Why should B2B marketers care?
Aside from all the controversy native advertising stirs up, it truly is an effective marketing tactic that B2B marketers need to consider.
Native advertising is proving itself to be more effective than traditional online advertising on media outlets in terms of revenue and brand image.
I think the benefits are even greater for B2B companies. Already, we’re trying to educate our audience with educational and informative content across multiple channels. Yes, at the same time we’d like the reader to convert into a lead, but I think seeing sponsored content in the Wall Street Journal technology section about software is more reliable and less “tricky” than a sponsored post about french fries from McDonald’s in the same space.
The best way for B2B marketers to fully reap the rewards of native advertising is, like any other marketing channel, to use it in the best way for your brand. If it doesn’t make sense for your company to use native advertising, based on either your budget or brand image, don’t do it! Some trends just aren’t meant to be followed.
If you can justify the cost and effort, then here are few things to keep in mind:
- Place your content on sites where you can create that “natural form and function” so your post actually can blend into the surrounding user experience.
- Go where you know your audience will be. Maybe it will get less views than if it were on Buzzfeed, but if you get more, higher quality leads from a less frequented site, that’s where you need to be.
- Let your readers know it’s sponsored content. Most outlets, like Forbes and Buzzfeed, automatically incorporate a label into sponsored posts, but the more transparency the better. Remember, people don’t like being tricked!
- While you are advertising your brand and product, don’t make that message too overpowering. In the end, your content should fit the native advertising definition of matching the user experience around it.
Have you used native advertising to promote your brand or product? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comments below.