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August 2, 2013

What Is Native Advertising and Does It Really Work?

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Buzzfeed Native AdvertisingNative advertising is one of those buzzwords that is starting to be casually thrown around in agency meetings. The truth is: it's actually been around for decades. You may already be familiar with the format in the television and film world as product placements. So how does it work online, and is it really that effective? Pay attention because this requires a closer look.

What Is Native Advertising?

The purpose of native advertising is to make ads look like they are part of the original website: think sponsored posts on a blog, promoted tweets, an interactive graphic or videos (Column Five and Solve Media created a fantastic infographic explaining native advertising). The great news about native advertising is that it makes it easier for users to engage with those ads because they are part of a bigger picture. Often times the line between content and promotion is so blurred that you may not even recognize it as an ad!

Does It Really Work?

It has great potential, but it's rather soon to tell whether it works in the long haul. Forbes, Mashable and even BuzzFeed have successfully adopted this concept for quite some time now. The main reason this tactic shows so much practice (and promise) is that it is treated like a unit of a familiar environment, such as a website or blog that you love and visit every day. While it’s not always obvious, it’s certainly far more effective to trust something that doesn’t stand out and annoy users like traditional display banners and pop-ups do.

So, how do you make native advertising work for your business?

  1. Honesty works. Whenever you want to sell genuine native advertising, you have to consider the following fact — people enjoy reading the truth. Offer valuable content or something unique and humorous that will go viral. For example, Charmin created a sponsored advertorial around the topic of bathroom reading; it gets the point across by talking about something related to Charmin’s line of products, but the advertorial is not obtrusive or “salesy.” Readers get a chuckle from it, and Charmin has created brand affinity and goodwill. Brilliant!
  2. Don't forget that you are writing for your target audience, so give them what they want (not necessarily what your sales department wants). Microsoft met its marketing goals while engaging a new audience with its “The Browser You Love(d) to Hate” campaign for Internet Explorer 9. It created a fun video that shared memories of growing up in the ‘90s. It helped the brand reconnect with Generation Y.
  3. Don't focus too much on one thing. Long articles where you try to explain why your brand is so “awesome” will scare consumers away. People hate having information shoved in their faces, and they don’t like feeling misled and betrayed. The Atlantic's Scientology advertorial is a prime example of native ads gone wrong.

Native needs to be done in an unobtrusive way. Sponsored ads must be relevant to readers and fit into their expectation from a publication — receiving quality, informative and entertaining content. Create a disconnect and native is nothing more than another sales trick.

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