Native Advertising: A Vital Next Step


Digital advertising as we know it is dead. In 2000, when people were still getting used to the internet as a new and powerful force in their lives, big flashing banner ads were enough to attract anyone’s attention.

But while those millennium ads saw a 9% click through rate (CTR), 2012 saw an average CTR of about 0.2% for banner ads (source). Hubspot shows that reality best with an infographic demonstrating what users are more likely to do than click a banner ad.

Obviously, changes need to be made in the digital marketing realm so online ads can continue being profitable platforms for businesses.

Enter native advertising. Instead of creating advertising that stands out from a website, this new method focuses on creating content that melds into the rest of the page. The content created isn’t an outright pitch to customers either––it is aimed to provide valuable information or amusing entertainment to users in addition to being associated with a brand name. While this may seem similar to content marketing, native advertising differs in the fact that a brand has to pay to get their content on someplace like the Wall Street Journal or Buzzfeed.   

While comedian John Oliver had a scathing (and hilarious) review of the concept, there are some caveats to his perception. First off, according to Copyblogger’s 2014 status report, somewhere around 49% of online users don’t know what native advertising is. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t seen it or even clicked it––so users aren’t even knowingly affected by native advertising. Oliver additionally brings up several examples of negative native advertising, such as the infamous Scientology ad published by The Atlantic.

Native advertising was still in its infancy at that point in time, and The Atlantic has since apologized for its choice. Since then, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has published a Native Advertising Playbook, providing content publishers information about working standards for the use of this practice, such as disclosure to readers.

Native advertising is the next step in the industry that you need to accept to keep on top of your game, in addition to being a proven marketing strategy. There are still some issues with accepting this platform, like the ones concerning the ethics of news journalism, but native advertising as a whole is the next big step in marketing.

As Daniel Pink, author of bestselling books such as “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” and “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” says, “Change is inevitable, and when it happens, the wisest response is not to wail or whine but to suck it up and deal with it.” Don Draper would probably agree.

Some adversaries of this development in advertising believe the main problem with native advertising is the quality of the content that is put out in the world, like Mark Duffy, writer on the Copyranter blog. He states that “listicle/GIF style sponsored content” is “an exceptionally low entertainment bar.” Duffy does have a point––native advertising can’t put out content that sucks.

But just because some native advertising sets a low bar doesn’t mean it is all horrendous. Actually some native advertising is quite good––even vital––to consumers. Take, for example, Fidelity Investments’ “Should You Accept Your Employer's Pension Buyout Offer?” on Forbes.

This content served a purpose. The post is obviously branded, but it also uses cold, hard facts to educate those who have questions about pension buyouts. Additionally, it takes on a perceptible stance; at the end of the article helpful links are added, that include starting steps to retiring with Fidelity.

A final example is the combo of comedy website The Onion and tax preparation company H&R Block with the article “Woman Going To Take Quick Break After Filling Out Name, Address On Tax Forms.”

This works, because we’ve all been there, and it provides a good laugh during tax season.  

This change in advertising is the same that can be seen in social media success. You don’t gain thousands of followers by just posting about yourself. You gain them by providing valuable information and insight that matters to your followers.

Native advertising is the new face of digital marketing, and anyone who is unwilling to follow the new path of digital marketing will face a difficult road ahead of them. Some see native advertising as a method of tricking users into clicking––but the idea is more complex than that. It is the art of camouflaging your content to not disturb the user and provide them with valuable or entertaining content that they otherwise may have ignored.  

This new type of advertising isn’t bad––it’s just a next step to keep up with customers in a time when the previous digital ad platforms are no longer working. Users have gotten picky, which means you need to be pickier about the content you pay to promote. Kick it up a notch, look at the problems your customers have and the answers they need … then fill in the blanks.