It may come off as a hodgepodge of advertorials, sponsorships, and branded content, but native advertising continues to attract interest from digital marketers and their brands. Studies show that almost half of all advertisers polled had invested in "sponsored posts," with over 60 percent having used or are planning to use native ads on mobile.
With the question of buy-in increasingly extraneous, our attention turns to execution. Are brands making the most of their investments? There's no shortage of best practices out there to help guide you, but allow me to offer just a few more in the interest of developing top-notch native.
1. Partner With the Right Site
How do you find the best publisher for your native campaign? Look for synergies. A site and its native advertiser should appeal to the same kind of consumer and possess a similar level of cultural cache. You want to find an outward commonality that consumers will immediately understand. Internet users expect a germane site experience -- especially if it's underwritten by an advertiser. If they don't get it, the presence of that advertiser will feel jarring.
When Nordstrom joined forces with Harper's Bazaar to build a native ad fashion feature showcasing styles from UGG Boots, the affiliation felt natural. Nordstrom and UGG are both brands site users would anticipate seeing on the site anyway, and both offer products consumers are likely to take an interest in. Native ads aren't really designed to help you reach an entirely new market. They're best used to garner attention from an audience that may already have you on their radar.
2. Create Content That Provides Value
Native content only works if the sponsor is facilitating something consumers really want to see. Only then do they look favorably on the advertiser for backing valuable online content.
A new native ad effort for Converse CONS provides a good example of this rule. The placement, which appears in Complex magazine online, endeavors to connect the shoe and apparel brand with young Hip Hop fans. The interactive feature delivers profiles, photos, and videos of New York music artists, and in keeping the men's magazine's emphasis on fashion, the copy also references each artist's style.
Consumers know Converse for its focus on creativity and modern street culture, and this makes the ad placement feel organic and germane to the magazine. It's clear that the brand is enabling the distribution of the content, and the content is something Complex's readers are sure to deem useful.
3. Emphasize Design Integration
The degree to which sponsored content should look like editorial is a point of contention among sites and brands, but undoubtedly they should feel intuitive -- that's why we call them native. This rule applies not just to substance but to design, as illustrated by features like lifestyle publication PureWow's 30 Days of Wow: The Best Cookbooks. Sponsored by Tribe Hummus, the seasonal site section offers recipe, cooking, and entertaining tips to form a scrolling list.
You'll find the advertiser showcased in the same manner as the tips themselves. Tribe's tip isn't numbered like the others, letting readers know this content is a little different, but it maintains the same look and feel and blends seamlessly into the page. That the ad content appears mid-stream aids in creating the perception of integration and ensures the reader doesn't feel disconnected from the editorial. The brand's own tips come off as equally pertinent and wholly apropos as a result.
4. Prize Transparency
When native ad placements go horribly awry, it's most often because they left audiences confused. Design integration is fundamental to quality and effect, but native content must be identified as such so as to avoid misleading readers. In the case of Tribe and PureWow, the integration is offset by a "brought to you by" label and brand logo that appear not just online but also in emails promoting the page. Branded tips and recipes are also marked as "sponsored."
A final word on successful native ad execution: all things in moderation. Too much of the brand within the content can sour the reader and detract from the editorial, which owns the bulk of the appeal.
With the right multi-point strategy, native advertising isn't nearly as muddled as it appears.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
March 19, 2014