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Trends of the Trade is a monthly column written by WWPR member Cory Churches exploring, well, trends in PR. Follow her @Coricita or reach her at Cory.Churches@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Washington Women in Public Relations

Native advertising is not a new concept. Custom content, advertorials, and product placement strategies have long been in the advertiser’s toolbox to help drive brand awareness and user engagement.

The New York Times, in relaunching their website this week, posted their first Native Ad and that event alone brings legitimacy and credibility to the practice.  The Times has gone to great lengths to inform readers of the paid nature of the content they are reading. However, not all content providers are doing the same.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute recently published the Ultimate Guide to Native Advertising, which I found on LinkedIn this week.

He methodically goes through the definition of Native Advertising, which he admits is anything but a simple process. According to Pulizzi, the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) created a Native Advertising Playbook that has six different categories of consideration. It’s a worthy document, but to simplify the argument, native advertising is:

  • A Directly Paid Opportunity. Native advertising is “pay to play”. If a brand or individual did not pay for the spot, it’s not native advertising.
  • Usually Content Based. The information is useful, interesting and highly targeted to the specific readership. So, in all likelihood, it’s not an advertisement promoting the company’s product or service directly.
  • Delivered In-Stream. To truly be a native ad, the user experience is not disrupted. The advertising is delivered in a way that does not impede the normal behavior of the user in that particular channel.

Again, the goal of native advertising (at least for definition purposes) is to not disrupt the user experience…to offer information that is somewhat helpful and similar to the other information on the site so that the content is engaged with at a higher rate than, say, a banner ad (this is good for advertisers, and if the content is truly useful, good for consumers).

Mashable also has a great, if somewhat dense, infographic to explain Native Advertising too. Both are great if you are looking for a broad overview and not a dissertation on the topic.

Why would you consider Native Advertising?

Having another tool in your box of content distribution and audience reach is worth the time, effort, and investment as traditional online advertising techniques aren’t terribly productive. As mobile becomes more of the norm for content distribution, native advertising may be the only option to get in front of more eyes. It is also an opportunity to repurpose existing content to breathe new life in to old content.

Using Native Advertising the Right Way

If native advertising is something you’d like to pursue, consider the following:

  • Don’t Sell. The content needs to be educational, information, helpful or interesting. If it’s just about your products and services, it probably won’t cut the mustard. In addition, most media brands have set up quality teams to ensure that your content is good enough, or they will actually assist you in producing the content (for a fee). Remember, your bad content on their site can destroy the credibility of that media brand.
  • Clear Labels. After this painful example of native advertising/sponsored content via the Church of Scientology, it’s critical that both media companies and brands comply to clearly identifying native advertising spots. The FTC is currently not going to get involved with any guidelines, in the hope that the industry will police itself. I believe that will (and is) happening. Using terms like “sponsored”, “promoted” or even “advertorial” are appropriate.

Getting onboard and comfortable in using and creating Native Advertising is just a matter of time. As a reader, you now need to be more attuned to who is creating and sponsoring the content you’re viewing.