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Some Bare Truths About Native Advertising

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For all the hype about native advertising by marketers, agency creative folks and traditional news publishers, the genre is nothing more than a fancifully dressed up, repackaged iteration of the original magazine advertorial.

GigaOM founder Om Malik has described native advertising as "a sales pitch that fits right into the flow of the information being shown." Native advertising is supposed to differ from other advertising vehicles with its sharp focus on content first. The format is intended to fit seamlessly within a page or screen and not interrupt it. And because of that, engagement should increase.

Recently the Internet Advertising Bureau released a Native Advertising Playbook to bring greater clarity to the industry lexicon for the hot buzzword. "Advertising on the modern internet will be defined by meaningful content, not standard ads," said Sharethrough CEO Dan Greenberg, co-chair of the bureau's task force on native advertising. "There's a movement happening, away from interruptive, traditional ads, and towards thoughtful brand stories -- and native ads are the most potent and effective distribution strategy for content-based advertising."

Regardless of the labels used for native advertising -- in-stream, sponsored or presented by -- the goal is to reach consumers via a paid opportunity, leverage content and deliver it without interrupting the user experience. Its distribution can appear across multiple digital communication channels, including websites, email, video and catalogs.

Take a recent Netflix native ad on Wired's site. Using a clear "sponsored content" label with the Netflix logo in view, the ad highlighted how emerging technology, such as streaming video, is fueling the evolution of the television industry. Titled "TV Got Better," the Netflix execution is visually effective, providing a differentiated user experience with video, embedded audio and scrolling text that all add up to a breakthrough piece of content.

Here's some insights for those wishing to better use of the native advertising format:

Related: 5 Rules of Native Advertising Every Content Strategist Should Know

Native ads and sponsored content can create surprising results. When compared to banner ads, native ads fare incredibly well, garnering 4.1 times more views on average per session, according to data from IPG Media Lab. And native ads improve purchase intent 18 percent compared with banner ads.

Although sponsored content has a reputation for being ignored, Meredith Levien, the executive vice president of advertising for The New York Times Co., recently said that readers of the Times are spending roughly the same amount of time on advertiser-sponsored posts as on news stories. "Brands are storytellers and they're going to tell stories that are tied to what's happening in the news," she noted.

Many companies have taken the approach of interrupting consumers from every angle, infiltrating Facebook updates, pushing constant Twitter feed updates and driving consumers to different points of engagement: ecommerce sites, Facebook pages and YouTube videos. Some do this out of desperation -- trying the latest marketing tactic to revive a brand. But native ads can shine the light on what really matters in marketing: building a relevant connection with customers.

Distribution is nothing without content. With all the algorithms and customer- relationship management systems available, marketers can target an ad's audience down to the size of a potential customer's shoes. But then what happens after locating that 35-year-old mother in Spokane, Wash., who wears size 9 shoes, regularly shops at Nordstrom and enjoys green tea? What should be said to her?

Marketers have spent so much effort on driving efficient reach but the ad strategies are incomplete and the messages are being ignored as a result.

Strive to build native ad content that is tailored and personalized and ideally hyperlocal. Then consider how to scale native advertising: If native advertising simply turns into in-stream banner ads, then this shining star will fade fast.

For native ads to have any chance of surviving and flourishing in the current fragmented, cluttered environment, marketers need to stir an emotional response that gets people to talk, love, share and act on a company's brand or product. Spend more time on the basics: build breakthrough, relevant content.

Related: Save Native Ads From the Slippery Slope of Deception

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