Like Ralph Parker in the movie “A Christmas Story,” discerning readers are now lamenting “A crummy commercial?” when they view promotional content that they first believe to be news. In Jean Shepherd’s story, Ralph finds out his long awaited Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was just a vehicle for the program’s sponsor to deliver a message to drink Ovaltine. Advertisers have always tried to engage viewers; however, the digital age has opened new doors to commercial promotion and to the user’s mind.
News Story? Commercial? It’s both!
Native Advertising is an ingenious marketing vehicle where ads are strategically blended so well with related content, that you hardly realize you’re being sold. A popular way this goal is achieved is through “advertorials” that may talk about the fun of photography, while mentioning a particular brand of camera.
Native Ads Can Show Up Virtually Anywhere
If you’re trying to sell a religion to the masses, it makes sense to create “sponsored content” like Scientology did to prominently appear as a news story on The Atlantic online, as captured by copyblogger.com. Instead of taking out a full page ad in the magazine space to tell folks to join their faith, they broke up their message into several small articles talking about David Miscavage and what a good year the controversial, yet mega rich Church of Scientology is having. If you miss that little label that says “sponsored content” in the upper left hand corner, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t a genuine news story written by an unbiased reporter. The banner at the top of the page advises the reader to “Find Out More About Yourself”, which is the perfect tie into an article that wasn’t a real news story in the first place. Sounds confusing, well it is!
This form of promotion big bucks for online publications, constructors of native ads, and the products and services they promote. That particular Scientology Advertorial was taken down from the site after only 12 hours. A spokesperson from the magazine simply admitted, “We screwed up.” As a trusted resource for timely news and cultural articles, readers were incensed at the implied trickery of this ad campaign disguised as journalism. Getting on board with today’s advertising strategies to reach consumers is a fine line, and The Atlantic ad was an example of a historic literary publication finding its way through the digital landmines. To their credit, their apology to readers was frank and sincere.
Social Media Blitz
Native ads are defined as advertising that follows the structure and flow of the user experience, according to Sharethrough.com. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler were mentioned as the sites where most native advertising occurs. Everyone from young children to great grandmothers use social media to keep in contact not only with each other, but to learn the latest catchphrase or laugh at the newest meme.
On Facebook, if you click on a posting featuring photos of your brother’s trip to Vegas , it is often directly followed by a post about cheap airline fares in case you want take a vacation too. You will read your father-in-laws political diatribe of the day about how so and so will ruin the country if elected, alongside an ad for the opposing candidate. On Twitter, it is also hard to distinguish personal tweets from promotions, as they are all nesting together. Very prestigious publications are also jumping on the native ad bandwagon, such as The New York Times and Forbes.
This is a profitable endeavor, as Share Through cites that 25% more consumers look at native ads than traditional advertising banners. It’s hard to argue with those positive results and these strategically placed ads haven’t keep users away from social media.
Who Are the Geniuses who Cleverly Design These Ads?
Anyone can develop a native ad. Facebook gives ad design instructions that tells clients that “Facebook takes care of showing the right ad to the right person” so all you have to do is follow their template specs. Of course bigger companies with higher profile products and services to sell still employ agencies to create their stylized native ads. Outbrain says that it amplifies ad content by putting its consumer’s interests first, and are one of the leading go-to sites for native ads for start ups and established brands.
Another leader of the pack for native video ads is Giant Media. This mega media video ad powerhouse is aptly named as they deliver “more relevant and immersive brand engagement through a superior user experience.”
Immersion or Over saturation?
Native advertising is effective, but is it ethical? User experience is what it is all about. Whether native ads enhance or mislead the online user is up for debate. Some experts like Visual Capitalist claim that 70% of users prefer ads included within their content instead of traditional banner ads. Others on sites such as Digiday say that native ads engage in misrepresenting themselves and misdirecting viewers of content. Banner ads may be annoying, but at least the viewer has a clear line between digital information and product advertisements.
So the next time a reader reads an article about how a certain celebrity lost weight, it’s no surprise an ad for a diet supplement will be nearby, or perhaps the entire article may just be “sponsored content.” It’s hard to tell, unless you carefully scrutinize the fine print or peruse the content surrounding the article to get the essential desired message.
If a trend is seriously hot, you can count on South Park to lampoon it. In their 19th episode, called “Sponsored Content” Butter’s father complains about the difficultly we face in distinguishing content from ads. Like other South Park episodes, those cartoon Colorado residents talk about the issues that are on our minds–or issues that should be on our minds, as the messages from this form of advertising is getting into our minds, like it or not.
Whatever a person’s opinion, native ads seem to be here to stay because despite complaints, consumers tend to click on that budget ticket to Vegas so they can post pictures of their own high roller trip, which will come up on their friend’s feed,next to an ad, perhaps for an even better airfare deal.