Three Ways For Publishers to Keep Native Ads Honest

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
photo Native advertising has been a buzzword in the industry for several years, but thanks to John Oliver’s rant against it on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” it brought the concept of native advertising to the masses. With 1.7 million views on YouTube after just a few weeks—as well as rapid spread across social media– it also brought up some valid points about native advertising and it’s sometimes deceptive nature. In the segment, Oliver cited a study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau that looked into how native ads are perceived by consumers of the news. As Oliver points out, only 41% of the general news audience were able to recognize sponsored content as advertising and not editorial content. What Oliver didn’t point out from the IAB study was that 60% of respondents would prefer to have advertising that told a story rather than sold a product – a key distinguisher of native ads. The segment also left out that some readers were much more apt to spot a native ad depending on what industry it’s in – 82% of entertainment consumers and 85% of business consumers felt sponsored content was easy to spot. The segment didn’t entirely paint native advertising in a negative light. Oliver did point out that publishers are only doing what is necessary to stay alive. A fraction of 0.01% of every display ad view inspires a click. Advertisers need more value than that to continue to support media. It’s not only listicle specialists like Buzzfeed that are turning to native ads either, established and well-respected publishers like the New York Times are also jumping on the bandwagon. To find out what publishers and advertisers can do to utilize native ads in a way that brings in revenue, but still adds value to the publication and avoids deceiving consumers – we talked with Ash Nashed is the CEO and founder of Adiant. The digital technology company operates two ad networks – Adblade and IndustryBrains – and just announced a native ad exchange that utilizes Data Management Platform technology to target ads. Nashed shared three main ways that advertisers and publishers can keep native ads honest.

1. Use transparent header language for native units and widgets. 

Choice of language is critical in order for readers to understand the source of an article, Nashed said. Words like “Recommended” or “More in the News” are simply misleading, he said. Instead, he suggests something his ad exchange uses – “Offers and Articles from Around the Web.” The word “offers” is something that the general public has come to associate with paid promotions and “articles” shows there more than just promotional material in the link.

2. Include clear labeling even in native ad widgets

“Many native widgets integrate editorial content with paid distribution from other publishers, and then mix in ads,” Nashed said. Those widgets generally appear online at the end of an article or along the side bar of a site to encourage visitors to click for more content. If the links in the widgets aren’t clearly labeled, that is deceptive to readers who may not be able to spot a native ad among all the widgets. All publishers should be aware of the labeling practices of any native widgets they choose to utilize. If each article link can’t be labeled, than a disclaimer for the whole set of widgets should be included.

3. Extend proper disclosure practices to landing pages.

Just like with the widgets, all places leading to a piece of sponsored content should be properly labeled. “Even when a consumer sees our properly disclosed native ad, they could mistake advertorial landing pages for unbiased editorial content,” Nashed said.  “That is why we review and approve advertiser landing pages to ensure they are appropriately labeled.” So ultimately, everything comes down to full disclosure. Remember to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Click here for the article.  

Online Native Ads Are an Effective Way to Reach Millennials

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
According to a recent AdWeek article, 46 percent of Millennials consume the content within the native ads that reach them. For context, native ads appear placed within the content of a website with a look and feel that closely matches the publisher. This makes the ad simple, unobtrusive, and easier to consume. These ads are more like previews to content and offers, and less like display ads that serve as a call-to-action that is increasingly disregarded.


Do use what works

Millennials are a generation that grew up on the Internet. Display ads are part of the online landscape that disappear into the background. In order to reach this influential and increasingly affluent demographic you should first shift media spending towards native ads, a format that your audience prefers. It’s no surprise that a recent IAB industry study confirmed that 60 percent of online news visitors are more open to advertising that focuses on a story.

Do use quality content as the hook

Considering that Millennials grew up with mobile devices, they are quick to consume information. To encourage discerning Millennials to engage, native ads need to be bright and brief. In order to hold your audience’s attention as they quickly engage, you need to offer immediate value or entertainment through your content.

Do understand performance metrics and the future of the industry

Native ads perform better than display ads based on several metrics. Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer notes the viewers of native ads are 3.6 times more likely to conduct branded searches, than viewers of traditional ads. Native ads are representative of the future of online advertising, where the messaging is more subtle and the viewer is more likely to receive value for engaging.

Do be authentic

Some brands are producing native ads that resemble the look and feel of a consumer’s own content. You have to be careful with this approach because Millennials are a discerning group that quickly sees through inauthentic messages. Consider how your product or service enables your customer and celebrate it. The Vans® brand has used this approach to great success on social media. Do pick the right outlets In order to reach Millennials, you need to be sure you’re advertising on the right types of sites. Aggregated news content sites are used extensively by Millennials and should be a top choice for advertisers. Reach your audience through a broad network before trying niche, siloed outlets to reach smaller pockets of Millennials.


Do not just make digital advertorials

While many native ads do work well as basic advertorials, it’s important to consider other approaches. User-generated content and social networks help build native ads and content into campaigns, beyond stand-alone messages. For example, Ford created the “Fiestagram” on Instagram that showcased the lifestyle of owners as they interacted with the car. The images and interactions, native to Instagram, helped Ford share its brand sentiment and grow its social media presence.

Do not forget mobile optimization

All native ads need to be structured so they are easily clicked and read when the user is on a tablet or smartphone. Millennials are a mobile generation that consume content and perform a range of daily functions without ever needing a computer. Make it easy for them to interact with native ads by ensuring they look great on mobile devices.

Do not be irrelevant

Native advertising content must be relevant to the typical user and be a logical fit for the chosen outlet. Otherwise, the content will “stand out” in a negative way as a poorly executed ad instead of a possible source of interesting content.

Do not present a novel-length ad

Even the most exciting content won’t attract busy Millennials if it’s too lengthy. Brief and visually interesting ads are ideal, especially those that prompt some sort of emotional connection. In order to interject humor, it’s important to not try too hard to be cool. Think in quick, broad, and respectful terms when incorporating humor into your ads.

Do not interrupt

The benefit of native ads is that they blend in to the content and present information in an unobtrusive way. Avoid being tricky with native ads, misleading consumers, or complicating an online task such as reading or moving from one piece of content to another.


Millennials’ information consumption habits, love of technology, and use of mobile devices to do things quickly is making traditional digital ads increasingly less effective. When used properly, native advertising capitalize on these characteristics and enables brands to connect with Millennials the way they want to be engaged – in a simple, unobtrusive and easy to consume manner.

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Native Ad Success Requires Research and Strategy

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
Ads are everywhere in today’s world, and nowhere are promotional messages more prevalent than on the Internet. Until recently, online advertisements only came in the form of display units: pop-ups and banner ads that are often intrusive and only distract from the user experience. Today, a growing number of companies are choosing a more seamless, natural approach by creating and running aptly named ‘native ads.’

“Native ads appear around a webpage’s main content with a look and feel that matches the design and layout of the website,” said Ash Nashed, CEO and founder of digital media technology company Adiant. “This design makes the ad simple, unobtrusive and easier to consume than displays ads. We consider native ads a seamless preview to content and offers, and less like an attention-demanding ad that can be disruptive to consumers. These features translate into better engagement with consumers.”

Native advertising is by no means a new concept. The “advertorial” — an advertiser-created piece of content designed to mimic the content a media outlet already produces — has been used in magazines, TV and radio shows for decades. But in the digital world, this type of advertisement takes many forms, and businesses that run native ads need to know which ones will be the right fit for their brand.

Aaron Goodin, CEO of content discovery and engagement platform Snap Skout, explained that there are six types of native ad formats, as published in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Native Advertising Playbook earlier this year:

In-feed units, which appear on news outlets and social networks in the form of labeled “sponsor content” or what’s been liked or picked as a favorite by a connection

Paid search units, in which an advertiser pays to be listed at the top of search engine results for certain keywords

Recommendation widgets, which pull related content from “around the Web” based on topics and keywords, then list them on the side or bottom of a media outlet’s website

Promoted listings, which function similarly to paid search units but appear on e-commerce marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon

In-ad with native element units, which are placed alongside editorial content based on contextually relevant topics and keywords, but link to an offsite page

Custom units, which are extremely platform-specific, such as customized playlists on Spotify and Pandora “Each format allows for a simple integration into a user’s experience, which is the brilliance and effectiveness behind native ads,” Goodin said.

Native advertising seems to be particularly effective with millennials, since they’ve grown up surrounded by digital media. Generation Y is quickly becoming one of the largest, most influential and most valuable consumer demographics, and any companies setting their sights on capturing this market should be paying attention to native ads for this reason.

“With younger audiences, having always had the Internet has made them proficient at evaluating content and consuming information quickly,” Nashed told Business News Daily. “Display units have historically distracted their quick consumption habit, which has trained them to consider ads as part of the landscape and not something on which to focus.”

“While the advertisement-averse millennial generation will ignore promos in traditional ad formats, they are willing to engage with native advertising when it mimics the content they are already consuming,” added Ashley Kemper, senior marketing strategist at Web design and marketing firm Blue Fountain Media. “As a whole, consumers absorb native ads 53 percent more frequently than display ads, and are 68 percent more willing to share a native ad than a display ad with a friend or family member,” according to recent research from Sharethrough, Kemper said.

Of the IAB’s native advertising formats, Goodin believes that in-feed units and recommendation widgets are the best formats to use when targeting Gen Y audiences.

“Younger audiences tend to spend more time on social networks and they respond positively to products and services that their friends recommend,” Goodin said. “In-feed units make sense as they allow brands to reach a younger audience in that social-network setting. Recommendation widgets that are placed on publications that cater to a younger demographic are also effective, just as long as they provide relevant and useful content.”

Due to the nature of native ads, the biggest challenge marketers face is walking the fine line between providing a high-quality, creative branded message and being overtly promotional, Kemper said.

“A successful native ad will in fact not feel like an ad at all, but rather will be unique and engaging content that a user wants to voluntarily consume,” she said. “Small businesses with no dedicated creative team may assume they can’t produce the necessary content to be successful in native ads, but starting small with promoted social posts before working up to larger efforts will allow them to test the effectiveness of tactics as they go.”

Another challenge is fighting the misconception that native ads are sneaky and misleading by masquerading as legitimate editorial content.

“While it is true that several native ad providers could better disclose their ads, being clear and upfront with consumers is actually very easy to do,” Nashed said. “Properly disclosed units help consumers understand if an ad is relevant to them. It filters interaction and ensures that consumers clicking your ads are intending to engage your brand. The result is properly informed consumers recognizing offers and articles, and selecting which they would like to learn more about.”

The best thing you can do as a business owner who is interested in native advertising is to do your research. Understanding your options in terms of format and ad provider — and truly knowing what your audience wants — are good places to start.

“Gain a solid understanding of all the available native ad options and select the best options that align with your business’s goals and strategies,” Goodin said. “Native ad formats can vary immensely in their placement, timing, delivery and relevance, and it’s important to find the right balance to meet your audience’s needs.”

“There is not one approach to marketing success, but native advertising speaks to your audience [the way] they want to be engaged,” Nashed added. “When your native ad provider delivers quality through its publisher network, disclosure practices and technology, it can deliver great business results.”

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Is Native Advertising an Evolution or a Mutation?

Monday, August 18th, 2014
Time has done little to dull the sting of John Oliver’s satirical rant against native advertising. With more than 1.5 million views and 1,500 comments (as of this writing), the HBO talk show host’s incendiary critique has torn through the Web, garnering viral praise for both its humor and scrutiny.

“[Oliver’s] points and the overall topic definitely deserve a lot more discussion,” says Ash Nashed, CEO and founder of digital media company Adiant. However, now that this discourse has started, where should it go? Even better, where has the conversation been thus far?

Much of Oliver’s ire was directed at Buzzfeed and its native ad model. “Portraying BuzzFeed’s practices as representative of all of native advertising is an over-generalization. That is just one native approach,” Nashed says. “Native ads, content marketing, proper disclosures, and purposely misleading practices are interrelated, but separate points.”

Oliver’s assault on advertorial content was bolstered by the real ethical implications in misleading consumers. In fact, some take a hard line against all native ads, even those clearly cited as such. “There is no doubt that this is an unethical misuse of the public’s trust and should not be tolerated by ad networks, publishers, or their audiences,” opines Sergey Denisenko, CEO at ad network MGID.  “As a matter of fact, the FTC already has regulations in place to make sure this doesn’t happen.” However, according to Oliver’s Buzzfeed example, misleading or obscure sponsorship labeling occurs often enough on major platforms that there may be inherent flaws in the model. Perhaps an alternative is necessary?

“What alternative? The fact of the matter is that advertising has been dying a slow death and it has to evolve to be more effective—online advertising in particular,” explains Paige O’Neill, CMO at SDL. “I don’t believe sponsored content is the final form for advertising.” That’s not to say native advertising cannot improve as a practice. Brands can increase the ethical fidelity and overall effect of native ads, according to Denisenko, Nashed, and O’Neill. Here are three ways:

Educate through content Branded content offends few when the aim is to advise or inform. “Strive to educate and provide true informational value on these topics,” O’Neill says. “There is most definitely a way to develop [native ad] content in a way that achieves the goal of educating the reader and getting across the brand value.”

Use transparent header language Labeling content as “Recommended” or “More in news” is the definition of counterproductive, unless the aim is to confuse consumers. “Ensure the use of transparent header language for native units and widgets,” Adiant’s Nashed says. “Use headers like ‘Offers and Articles from Around the Web,’ as this header clearly explains the mix of ads and content with which a consumer is about to engage.”

Do not obfuscate In line with Nasheed’s emphasis on clarity, Denisenko suggests that marketers avoid creating content that borders on being an ad. “If an ad itself suggests that a person would be encouraged to use a product or service it cannot go unnoticed. [What] Oliver opposes are the ads that are masqueraded for content even though properly labeled,” Denisenko says. “The whole chain of content marketing must remain ethical from start to finish so that the consumer’s trust remains intact.”

Although the future of native advertising is unclear, it has proven effective for brands and valuable to consumers–but Oliver’s criticisms cannot be ignored. The model must continue to evolve to avoid damaging customer trust.

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Four Reasons Marketers Need Native Ads

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
shutterstock_70699570-millennials group

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer recently stated that 46 percent of Millennials consumed branded content through a native ad.  One third of those Millennials then shared that branded content. What’s the takeaway from these comments? It showcases the growing value of native ads, especially when it comes to engaging Millennials.

Millennials consume a lot of content, increasingly through their smartphones and tablets. Social sharing is also second nature for them, which gives interesting content a good chance to be cost-effectively circulated widely.

The one-third sharing statistic is especially important because the value of content becomes much greater when you consider its potential to be shared beyond just one consumer. Millennials’ information consumption and sharing behaviors have presented marketers with a unique opportunity to capture the attention of this group.

Native advertising provides an extraordinary way to reach Millennials with key messages and broad content. It is also an exciting alternative to traditional digital ads that are demonstrating declining effectiveness. Let’s dive into four reasons savvy marketers are moving to native advertising to engage Millennials and leverage all the benefits of social sharing.

1. Performance – plain and simple. Native ads are consistently outperforming traditional display ads in terms of engagement rates. Millennials are a generation that grew up with display ads and widely treat them as scenery, not a compelling call that drives action. Native ad relevancy is driven through brief messages and a content format, which collects and holds Millennials’ attention.

2. Engage through quality content. Creating long-term brand loyalty among Millennials requires engaging them with entertaining and thought-provoking content. Native ads are valuable to reach this branding goal because they set-up conversations between the brand and the consumer. In contrast, traditional display ads typically communicate commands such as “buy this” and “go here or a softer sell designed to elicit a response.

3. Blending in versus interrupting. Marketing 101 tells us to be bright, be brief, and be gone when specifically advertising to consumers. Millennials are especially discerning about giving their attention and are accustomed to convenience. They use their phones to find what they need and then move on. Native ads blend in, provide a small preview of content, and offer an engagement opportunity without interrupting a reader.

4. Best practices and best outlets. Social media platforms and aggregated news content sites are two favorites of Millennials. Native ads are especially effective when you integrate well into content at the right outlets.  Combining unobtrusive, brief messages around relevant content ensures the message is in line with the subject matter that is top of mind. This combination delivers especially effective native advertising results.

The effectiveness of native ads is clearly driving investment from the broader advertising industry. For example, as traditional display ad revenues continue to fall, big media firms such as Time Inc. have recently created native ad groups that are focused on driving advertising dollars through well-written content.  The investment is even more clearly notable with analyst firm BIA/Kelsey predicting a 62% native ad spending increase from 2014 to 2017. Marketers that need to capture the powerful Millennial market need to add native advertising to their campaign strategy in order to drive engagement and drive brand building through social sharing.

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