Native advertising: a chance for us to get it right
Let’s face it fellow marketers, we screwed it up pretty badly the first time around.
We made online advertising so bad, linking to content so useless, that people developed ‘banner blindness’.
In fact, ‘blindness’ is a euphemism: people aren’t blind to banners at all. We see them perfectly well. We just choose not to click on them.
We don’t click on them because we came to do something else, not to get sold to by a third party that has little do with the thing we came to do.
So how did the marketing industry and our publisher partners respond to the pitifully low click-through rates for our ads?
Did we improve the quality, relevance and utility of our marketing?
Did we make sure that, if we must interrupt our target audience, the least we can do is provide something they care about?
Did we get so clever and charming and useful that people got over their advertising apathy and developed ‘editorial blindness’ instead?
We did not.
That would be hard. (Marketers don’t like hard things.)
Instead, we invented Native Advertising.
Advertising that’s designed to look like exactly like editorial (or non-promotional social media posts).
So people would click on them not realizing that they’re actually ads.
And, if we really do our jobs well, they might read the entire piece without ever realizing they’re in Advertorial Land.
Job done. Consumer tricked. Content delivered.
But then, someone pointed out that people may not like being tricked into clicking an ad. That it might be just a tad unethical.
So how did the marketing industry respond to this little ethical issue?
Did we make our native ads look a bit less like editorial and a bit more like advertising?
Did we stop allowing native ads to use the house font and style sheet?
Did we separate out the native ads on clearly marked sections of our websites?
We did not. (That would, um, defeat the whole point).
Instead, we invented ‘disclosure’ and talked a lot about ‘transparency’.
Mostly, we experimented with disclosures that didn’t actually disclose anything at all.
With words like “Partner Content” or “Expert Network” or “From the web”.
And it worked perfectly.
By not working at all. (If ‘working’ means being clear and open).
A recent study in the Journal of Advertising called Going Native showed that only about 8% of consumers recognise that native ads are paid-for content.
Shocking, right? You’d almost be forgiven for thinking this was intentional.
Seeing that data, marketers responded by asking, “How can we do better?”.
More specifically, “How can we design even more effective disclosure statements that dupe the remaining 8%?”.
Which prompted regulators like the Federal Trade Commission to get interested. Their recently published Guidelines on Native Advertising are a small but solid step towards doing what we marketers should have done for ourselves. (Will Critchlow wrote an excellent analysis of the FTC rules in this post on Moz called A Checklist for Native Advertising: How To Comply With the FCC’s New Rules.)
So here’s the thing.
Maybe this whole native advertising thing is a chance for us marketers to get it right this time.
Maybe instead of using these ill-gotten clicks to push things like, “The Secret to Great Abs Without Exercising or Dieting”, we can promote smart, fun, entertaining, useful content that’s actually relevant to the reader.
Maybe we can start training people that those weird, quasi-editorial things are generally really good.
Then maybe we won’t have to hide our agenda and can actually be entirely open about it – real transparency instead of the fake kind.
Basically, me and my old-fashioned ilk (people who value editorial independence as the single most important thing in our media sources) have pretty much lost.
Native is the new banner.
If we get it wrong, we’ll all be fretting about ‘native ad blindness’.
If we get it right, people might think, “Oh cool: content from Audi on that thing I care about. Click.”
I guess I’m saying let’s put more effort into delivering valuable marketing to our prospects so we can spend less effort tricking them into viewing it.
I guess I’m saying let’s not screw it up this time.