A brand … paying for a story … on a website with editorial integrity. I get it. It makes people a little squeamish. But native advertising — all the rage among content marketing experts these days — is adding revenue to traditional advertising models, supporting the publications I care about, keeping friends of mine employed, and creating the opportunity for content marketers, writers, and editors to do some unique, interesting, and compelling things.
Is native advertising right for me?
You might have a few reservations about going native. I get it. Answers to three hot native ad questions below.
Does it work?
Heck yes, it does. By virtually every measure — purchase intent, brand lift, click-through rate, conversion rate, engagement, page views, likelihood of sharing — native advertising brings home fatter, juicier bacon than traditional ads. That’s assuming it’s done well, meaning there’s a seamless fit with the native content’s style, voice, and subject matter; targeted timing and placement; and clear disclosure.
Is it ethical?
At it’s worst, native advertising can be technically legal while still being shady — and shady is not something potential customers look for in brands. Clicking on a native ad posing as legit editorial produced by a reputable site and landing in click-bait hell (“10 Celebs Who Look Like Their Dogs,” for instance) is simply bad user experience.
However, at it’s best, native advertising is not only clearly marked as sponsored, but also compelling enough that readers click anyway — and they’re rewarded with thoughtful, rich, enlightening storytelling.
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether your content clears this bar — but in my mind, that bar is pretty high. In one successful example, The New York Times’ T Brand Studio partnered with Netflix last year to produce a highly trafficked series on women inmates prior to the release of Netflix’s second season of Orange Is the New Black. That’s a case of rich content attracting readers regardless of the source.
Should you use it?
If you have the budget to produce quality content and pay for a sponsored post, it’s hard to pass up native ads. Partnering with a reputable publishing house can accomplish this — most have divisions designed to produce quality sponsored content. But you’ll have to be prepared to spend — you get what you pay for here, folks. Be sure to also request some sort of social media cross promotion as well.
You should be sure to monitor your content’s performance and optimize. Success depends on getting the right audience to the right content. So closely monitor the bounce rates and time on-site from your sponsored posts to make sure you aren’t ticking people off and undoing the trust you’ve built up. You might have to tweak where your posts appear, headline choices, or the content itself.
To me, native advertising breathes new life into a creative form I’ve long been in love with. It can be done artistically, creatively, and successfully as long as it’s treated with the care and consideration it needs. If treated as a cheap ploy to gain page views and new visitors, the returns you get will be just that: cheap.