This is a guest post by Bernie Borges. Bernie Borges is executive producer of Social Business Engine, CEO of Find and Convert, an IBM Futurist, a Dell Social Influencer and frequent speaker at marketing conferences and private events.
Native advertising is one of the most controversial and least understood concepts in contemporary marketing. Critics like HBO’s John Oliver deride it as misleading and call it a threat to journalistic integrity, while proponents see native advertising as a vital revenue producer for publishers and an effective way for marketers to reach and engage audiences.
As a journalist-turned content marketer, Melanie Deziel, director of creative strategy at Time Inc., shared her perspective on native advertising in a recent podcast recording. From where Melanie sits, native advertising is at the cross-section of advertising and journalistic storytelling.
What is native advertising?
Native advertising is content that looks like the rest of the content on a website, but is paid for by a sponsor. The most familiar type of native advertising is the boosted post on Facebook, which appears with the word “Sponsored” under the post title. It looks just like a regular Facebook post, but it is an ad.
The kind of native advertising that set off John Oliver is found on popular websites known for their editorial content, such as the Huffington Post, The Atlantic and The New York Times. Native advertising on editorial sites matches the look of the publisher’s content, but has been purchased.
Sites with high ethical standards disclose that the content is sponsored, so readers do not falsely assume it is provided by the publisher. This is the form of native advertising discussed in the podcast.
Overlapping skill sets
The emergence of native advertising on editorial sites is giving birth to a new discipline that combines marketing and journalism. We may soon see this discipline taught in universities, but for now, journalists entering the field must learn about marketing, while marketers must gain a firm grasp of journalism.
For native advertising to be effective, marketers need to be able to give journalists the editorial freedom they need to truly explore and report on their topic. Brands that expect to have complete control over how their ads look and feel may find it hard to let go. Their reward is deep branding, thanks to storytelling that penetrates to the core of the user’s psyche.
Brand journalists need to be cognizant of marketing concerns, such as matching the tone and voice of the publication and how users will navigate to and around the content.
Context conscious content
Melanie refers to native advertising done right as “context conscious content,” which can only be achieved when content creators are mindful of these five elements:
1. Topic – Choose a topic that aligns well with the publication and the advertiser so it is relevant to the audience.
2. Voice and tone – Match the tone in which the publisher speaks, whether that is informational, technical, humorous, etc.
3. Format – The same content can be published in different formats, depending on the audience and the publication. Text, video, illustration, slideshow and infographics are all formats to explore and consider.
4. Navigation – How will people find and experience the content? Consider the user experience.
5. Disclosure – People generally have no problem with well-produced sponsored content as long as the content is relevant, and the relationship between the publisher and the sponsor is clearly disclosed.
While the overlapping of journalistic storytelling and marketing in native advertising has its critics, it also has some well-documented successes, including an article Melanie produced for The New York Times, Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work.
Sponsored by Netflix as part of their promotion for Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black, this piece was among the top 2 percent of all Times stories shared that year. It is work like this that stands out for where the future of native advertising should be heading.
The late David Carr, an esteemed New York Times columnist tweeted this:
— david carr (@carr2n) June 13, 2014
For more on Melanie Deziel’s critically acclaimed work with The New York Times, what she does today with Time Inc., and her thoughts on the overlap of marketing and journalism in native advertising, visit her personal website.