Native Advertising – Is It Just A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing?

 

Does anyone even notice banner ads any more unless they happen to jump out at you when you accidentally scroll your mouse over them? Other than that case, it’s doubtful. Maybe your eyeballs happen to glance over them as you’re reading an article, but everyone in the ad and marketing industries know this model, to put it bluntly, kind of sucks. So people are placing bets on the success of native advertising, also known as branded content or custom content, to help drive monetization for the publisher and engagement for the advertiser. Essentially, this emerging framework allows advertisers to post an article, blurring the lines between messaging and content.

So lets look into banner ads, skyscrapers, rectangles – whatever you call them –  they are just a space filling up the screen that we as consumers know not to click on unless for some strange reason they’re genuinely engaged with the advertisements. But interest in a banner ad is an anomaly. With average click-through-rates hovering around 2.1% according to this infographic, while others suggesting even lower numbers of .04%. There’s clearly a problem to fix.  Banners can only guarantee a given reach, they can’t promise brand interaction.

Now recognizing a need for a change, a number of online publishers including BuzzFeed, Forbes.com, Gizmodo and as of the other day Boston.com, are employing custom content as a new form of online advertising. Below is how BuzzFeed features the branded content.

 

The advertisers are put in yellowish boxes with “Featured Partner” appearing on the bottom. And these spaces don’t come cheap. According to the AdAge Article “Native Advertising: Media Savior or Just the New Custom Campaign,” the prices are staggering. “The unit to the right of the main editorial headline costs $8,000 a day”, while the story appearing second in the in the content stream runs for $12,000 per day.

As mentioned earlier, Boston.com, an entity of the New York Times Company, introduced a branded content option for their advertisers too. Currently, this choice only exists in it’s “Lifestyle” section of the website. Below is how the publisher implemented this strategy on their website.

All the branded content is featured in the “insights” box to the right, blantantly separated from the website’s article. Talking about the new option, Thomas F.X. Cole, the executive director-business development at Boston.com and the Boston Globe said, “As much as 50% of small businesses are blogging. The one thing they want is to have people see their material.” So from a business perspective, it offers another means to spread their content and for publishers it’s another revenue stream. On the surface, it appears as a win-win for both parties.

Here’s the issue, at least for me. This model demarcates the advertisement from the rest of the content, which has always been the system for print. But doesn’t this separation essentially reposition the branded content as another style of banner ads? In some sense it does, making consumers less likely to click on the post, the problem custom content is supposed to solve. Yes, it corresponds to one of the dominating themes of the digital age –consumer’s decide when to opt-in to messaging – doesn’t the banner ad too?  You only just have to click it.

If this model evolves into the norm, it’s possible a few years down the road we’ll be seeing CTRs similar to those of the banner ad. But native advertising is unique content when targeted on the right section of a website does indeed increase the relevancy of the posting – an essential requirement for any form of digital advertising. Maybe I’ll be wrong about that prediction, only time can tell. Although this system does push the industry in the right direction, it’s probably not going to solve the digital monetization problems for publishers. Really all I am trying to say is don’t start counting your chickens before they hatch.

 

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