Display ads aren’t going anywhere. But many platforms and publishers are casting their lots with new ad formats that are more native to the user experience. This series on “The Modern Publisher” examines the successes and challenges these ad sellers have in implementing such native monetization systems. This series is sponsored by ShareThis, a social sharing platform.
Gustav Von Sydow is CEO and founder of Burt, a Stockholm-based business intelligence platform.
If you’ve read any of the trades recently, you’ve heard the buzz about native advertising and its promise of improved engagement.
Discussions, fueled largely in part by Facebook’s introduction of sponsored stories and Twitter’s promoted tweets, have pushed the case for native’s importance beyond the usual advertising technology circles into broader channels like Business Insider, TechCrunch and publications that typically cover a more holistic beat.
So why, all of a sudden, is native the topic du jour with the marketing cognoscenti? One might argue it’s because we, on both sides of the advertising/publishing aisle, are coming around to the notion that developing a robust advertising business calls for a lot more than simply building a massive audience and filling pages with ads where few users would ever think to look. Advertising needs to have an impact if it’s going to be effective, and a proven way to create such impact and effectiveness is to make ads an integrated — or native — part of the user experience.
Where our industry has gone wrong, though, is in equating native ads to a format that’s only technically the same as the normal user experience. Take Facebook as the perfect case in point. The logic behind Facebook advertising asserts users “like” and “comment” on stories friends post in their feed. Facebook wisely used this dynamic by creating sponsored stories — and that name pretty much says it all: an ad format customized for specific users that’s displayed inside the feed and that people can like and comment on.
Thus, we conclude that if the sponsored story bears any kind of resemblance to other content on the page, it is, by definition, native. Wrong.
Even if sponsored stories are technically the same as other content, they — to use Clayton Christensen’s “milkshake metaphor” — don’t help users accomplish the job they’re hiring Facebook to do. For example, I’m an active Facebook user; I hire Facebook to share my thoughts and experiences and to see what my friends are up to. A sponsored story, in my case, does nothing toward helping me accomplish this goal. Contrast that with Google AdWords, a format that supports the reason I visit Google in the first place: to find what I’m looking for.
Advertising is native only when — and if — it aligns with our goals as a media consumer. This is not a new idea. On the contrary, it’s how all great advertising works, not limited to highly functional examples like AdWords. Native advertising, done right, is the perfect recipe to deliver happy customers (both consumers and advertisers) and to develop a profitable media property.
My favorite example of well-integrated, value-adding ads are in lifestyle magazines. We buy these glossy publications to be inspired, entertained and informed, and we also look to them to find products we might buy. Ads in lifestyle magazine are not shouting at us; rather, they’re an integral part of the experience and in some cases, are more welcomed and appreciated than the content alongside of which they run. In fact, I’d argue that if you were to ask the typical Vogue reader to buy the magazine with or without ads, most would choose the issue with the ads. In effect, readers pay for advertising in print, whereas in digital, they pay to get rid of, bypass or skip ads. Is it possible to recreate print’s success in digital media? The short answer is yes. In fact, we know of several publishers that create and deliver advertising products that add value to the user experience.
As readers get more advertising on their screens, they stay longer, return more often and are more likely to share content with friends. And advertisers pay more for each contact, driving revenue to publishers who, in turn, can be invested in creating an even higher quality experience. That being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe to solve this. Every combination of readers, content and advertisers is different, and the only effective solution is one that’s been customized against specific goals and objectives.
The key to success is for media companies to stop looking at advertising as a necessary evil to monetize their audiences and start thinking of how advertising can add real value to the user experience. From where we sit, one great way to do that is by going native. Let the ads compete with editorial content. Done right, you’d be surprised how often the ads come out on top.
Dentsu’s podcast celebrating Black empowerment tries to do its part to fill the advertising inequity gap
The Dentsu-backed More Than That with Gia Peppers kicked off season 3 last week, featuring several major advertisers (and Dentsu clients) including Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Kroger and Mastercard.
The Athletic’s Sebastian Tomich is looking beyond ads and subscriptions to reach profitability
The Athletic's path to profitability is set for 2025, and to achieve this goal, chief commercial officer Sebastian Tomich is focused on more than just selling ads directly to prospective advertisers.
How newsroom unions intervene when members get laid off
Amid the recent wave of media layoffs, here are some of the ways newsroom unions are intervening.
SponsoredAdvertising predictions that will shake up the media industry in 2023
Chris Kelly, CEO, Upwave Like many people, marketers and advertisers were ready to see 2022 come to a close. A year that started off promising was assailed by inflation, layoffs and the disastrous effects of RSV, the flu and additional COVID strains. Still, despite an uncertain outlook for 2023, there are plenty of reasons for […]
Despite Q1’s slow start, publishers are bullish about events revenue for 2023
Publishers like BDG and Apartment Therapy are banking on events revenue to give them a leg up in 2023.
Media Briefing: The case for and against monthly and annual subscriptions in the battle for retention
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for improving retention in a subscriptions business. While annual subscribers might stick around longer for some, other publishers will have better luck with monthly plans.