Native Advertising for Content Marketing in 2014: Use Caution with Ad Format

Native advertising trendsNative advertising continues to get a great deal of attention throughout online and content marketing circles.

Publishers love it as a source of new revenue. Some marketers can’t get enough of it either as they enjoy finding new ways to call attention to their brands.

Like any marketing opportunity, you will want to think through the opportunity. Does native advertising make sense for your business and in what context? How can you make sure it doesn’t backfire?

For simplicity sake, I’m primarily referring to the form of native ads that appear with news publishers’ web site editorial content (not Twitter promoted tweets or Facebook sponsored stories). It’s “native” because the reader typically sticks with the web site page instead of rushing off to the web site for the brand.

Here are a few ideas to consider followed by additional viewpoints:

1. Provide exceptional content.

Readers will decide whether they like the native advertising model. They will grow distrustful of publishers and advertisers if they feel they are duped.

If you write about a sensitive topic or try to pass off a fluff piece as quality editorial, readers may be disappointed.

In January, critics assailed The Atlantic for publishing an article by the Church of Scientology. The piece revealed a huge disconnect with readers before it was removed. The controversy was compounded by how comments were moderated and whether the sponsored content label was evident enough.

2. You won’t get a free pass by simply aligning native advertising with the value of good marketing.

Native ads should feature quality content marketing produced by brands that tell great stories.  Don’t be too overt with your messaging because that can annoy readers.

3. Take baby steps with native advertising.

If you’re itching to give native advertising a shot, go slow – really slow. Start with publishers who demonstrate that they respect their readers who expect to see content that’s first rate and well suited for them.

4. Make the content sharable.

If you’re going to the trouble of creating compelling content, you may well come up with a catchy headline. But don’t oversell the article. The Huffington Post and other news sources use headlines that really grab your attention. But readers may kick themselves for getting sucked into stories that don’t match the headline.

Mark Sherbin’s Content Marketing Institute posts go into more detail about native advertising – one as an overview and one on the native advertising opportunity at LinkedIn.

In “How Your Content Distribution Can Use Native Advertising,” Mark provides successful examples and outlines benefits of native advertising, such as:

“Reaching audience members outside your channels: Until now, content marketers have been happy to focus on owned and earned media. Paid media brings its own benefits to the table, including the opportunity to extend your reach to your intended audience across trusted channels.

Extending the life of content: Today, publishers accept that the life span of a blog post or other piece of content is unpredictable. Through native advertising, there’s a clear opportunity to bring dusty (but still powerful) content back to the forefront.

Retargeting leads and prospects: The evolving nature of content personalization and context marketing means we have the ability to apply these concepts to native advertising, assuring we’re guiding advertising prospects through the sales funnel.”

Mark offers a great primer with “4 Tips for Native Advertising With LinkedIn Sponsored Updates.”

He goes over budgeting and notes that the program provides targeted distribution without disrupting a reader’s regular experience with LinkedIn. “Sponsored updates appear in the natural flow of a member’s newsfeed among other shared pieces of content and profile updates.” Additionally, LinkedIn members can click a “hide” button.

Robert Rose takes issue with use of native advertising in his article, “Why Native Advertising Is Neither.”

“You might as well call it “invisible” advertising. See, native advertising advocates say that, from a consumer’s experience, the promoted content should be so completely contextualized that it is indistinguishable from the editorial content featured in the publication.

As a content marketer, this proposition runs completely contrary to my goals. I always want my content to be so remarkable that it stands out and compels the reader to take an action. In short, if I’m expected to be successful in native advertising, I would WANT that content to stand out and effectively compete for attention against every other piece of editorial that’s there. In fact, as a marketer, I wouldn’t even need to care if readers ignore all the other articles — as long as they read mine.”

Here are a few other perspectives.

With “Inside Forbes: The Role of Native Advertising in Our Search for a New Media Equation,” Lewis DVorkin outlines how Forbes embraces native ads.

“The native ad business is quickly moving forward. At FORBES, we’re offering marketers (for a price, of course) the ability to use the same tools I do to publish content on our site, always transparently identified and labeled as marketer content. Their posts, just like mine, flow through our content management system and organically across (even in the Most Read module).”

Terri Thornton covers multiple angles (including spending trends, the evolution of native ads, and sponsorship labels) in her MediaShift (PBS) piece, “Native Advertising Shows Great Potential, But Blurs Editorial Lines.”

She notes that native advertising is giving rise to new types of businesses and maybe even an emerging business sector.

“Take, for instance, the success of Sharethrough, which helps increase the reach of sponsored content. For example, if a brand creates a post for one site, Sharethrough carries it to other platforms such as WordPress,, The Awl and Thought Catalog, which direct traffic back to the original post. Videos can be embedded and viewed in a number of blogs and sites. Although it’s only four years old, it’s worked with 20 of the top 25 brands of AdAge magazine’s Megabrands list.”

Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission will continue to explore native advertising. See “Native Ad Workshop Leaves FTC Perplexed.”

I’m certain there will be ongoing debate about the topic. But I’m most interested in how brands can succeed with the format. Inc. magazine recently put native advertising in perspective with “Why You’ll Warm Up to Native Ads in 2014.”

What are your views on native ads? Is your brand using them? How effective have they been or do you think they will be in the future?