Can you remember just two radio spots you’ve heard over the past 24 hours?
Do you use one email address for real email, and a separate address for SPAM?
Do you open your snail mail over a trashcan, so you can quickly dispose of junk mail?
Do you use Netflix to avoid TV spots during your favorite shows?
Do you even answer your landline anymore, or have telemarketers ruined that for you?
Are you blind to banners?
If you’re an advertiser or publisher and you answered yes to all of the above, you should be very worried about Native Advertising.
Bad Native Advertising Equals Bad Editorial
When a bad TV commercial airs, you can leave the room, or change the channel. Even if you can’t leave the room, a commercial is only 30 seconds long. It feels like a fair exchange of time for free content.
The same is true with Radio. When Crazy Eddy shouts at you, there’s no way you’ll confuse his ad with Sports Talk, or Imus. The TV and radio networks feel no compulsion to announce, “You are about to experience an ad,” because the difference between authentic programming and advertising is obvious.
But native is different from all other forms of advertising. It’s meant to resemble the content around it in every way. If Native Advertising runs the course of all other forms of advertising, most of it will be bad.
Mixing bad native content with good editorial content averages out to mediocre.
What publisher or advertiser aspires to mediocre?
There’s a fox in the henhouse
At a recent Content Marketing Conference I attended in New York, Forbes announced that they’ve agreed to “open their content management system to advertisers and their agencies,” making it possible, as one agency panelist proclaimed, “for advertisers to create native advertising that is BETTER than the publisher’s content!”
Does Forbes really expect Lower My Bills and their agency to enlighten Forbes readers with authentic articles about “real people who refinanced their jumbo mortgages at 3%,” with no editorial oversight?
“Don’t worry! We have standards!”
That’s what most publishers tell you. The Atlantic, for instance, put together a committee to determine how best to label native ads, to distinguish them from real content.
Unfortunately, labels such as “advertisement” or “partner content” are not standards. If I showed up at your party with a prostitute and introduced her as “Not my wife but a prostitute,” you wouldn’t say I had standards. You’d say I was a slime ball.
The only standards that matter are those that determine which content is good enough, and useful enough, to appear under a publisher’s masthead. Those same standards must be applied to Native Advertising.
Inevitably, consumers will learn to avoid bad Native Advertising the way they’ve learned to avoid all other forms of bad advertising. This time around, however, they may not be able to distinguish between authentic editorial and the Native Advertising that is designed to resemble it in every way. When consumers avoid a publisher’s editorial, that publisher dies.
What’s a publisher to do?
First, be sure to enforce the same editorial standards over native advertising as you do over editorial content. Help advertisers and their agencies understand what great content actually is.
Second, do not, under any circumstances, relinquish editorial control over native advertising. Let advertisers and their agencies create it, but make sure your editors approve it, and make sure someone fact checks it. Kill bad native ads as quickly as you kill bad editorial. Since your existing editors are busy, you may need to hire an editor to provide oversight and guidance to advertisers. If you can’t afford an editor to provide oversight, you can’t afford to get into the Native Advertising Business.
Third, understand that great native advertising will improve your experience, and make consumers and advertisers more loyal to you, just as surely as bad native advertising will ruin your experience. You need only look as far as The Super Bowl to understand the power of great advertising to draw a crowd. Sure, the game is popular, but Super Bowl Sunday is the one and only day of the year when everybody looks forward to seeing ads. If your advertisers or their agencies struggle to produce quality content, help them find the talent they need. If anybody can identify great talent, you can.
Fourth, help, don’t sell. Your editorial content, hopefully, exists to educate your audience, inform them, entertain them, enlighten them —it helps them in some way. If the purpose of a Native placement is to sell a product or push an agenda, then it conflicts with your editorial goals. Kill it. If the purpose is to help your audience, embrace it. Condition your audience to know that if a sponsor’s content appears on your site or in your app, it’s worth their investment of time.
What’s an advertiser to do?
Just one thing: embrace and support publishers that enforce standards, and that reject your content until you get it right. They’re doing you and your audience a favor.
Soon there will be hundreds of sites that allow you to buy your way into the editorial conversation. For the next year or so you’ll get better performance out of Native than you get out of banners and other forms of advertising. Remember, though, that ours is an industry that kills the goose that lays the golden egg. Email ads were opened nearly 100% of the time when they were first introduced. Banners drove double-digit click throughs. We all know how well that turned out. Before long, consumers will learn that most content from most brands is unremarkable. They’ll learn to avoid bad Native ads as quickly as they learned to ignore banners.
But there will be some smart publishers who only allow great editorial under their mastheads. They will be your greatest allies. By protecting the interests of their readers, they’ll also protect you from yourself. Your voice will be mingled with the intelligent, objective, informative, helpful, and entertaining voice of a trusted publisher, and maybe, just maybe, consumers will trust you more.
Make Advertising History
No matter which form of advertising you consider, radio, TV, print, DM, digital, etc., less than one half of one percent will be brilliant, and the rest will be…forgettable. The same will be true for Native Advertising. Most of it is destined to be bad.
But, if you have standards and the guts to enforce them, if you enable the creation of great Native ads and help your audience succeed, your Native Advertising could be great 100% of the time. Whether you’re a publisher or advertiser, yours could be a brand that earns greater trust and loyalty at a time when others train consumers to ignore them.