When it comes to jargon, it's often hard to uncover what's hiding behind those fancy words. In the marketing world, however, one term continues to perplex the masses more than most: Native advertising. Yet, while many still fail to fully grasp its meaning and intention, this mode of content creation persistently proves to be lucrative, encouraging widespread adoption despite its veiled existence. Sharethrough defines native advertising as a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. Others refer to such media as "sponsored" or "branded" content. Regardless of the name, this avenue essentially allows corporations to partner with publishers in an effort to create marketing materials that promote the given brand without being as blatantly obviously (and inherently unattractive) as the traditional banner advertisement.
According to an eMarketer report, native ad spending has seen an increase of 29 percent during 2014, as further studies conclude that consumers look at native ads more frequently than banner ads (52 percent). Native advertisements also registered 9 percent higher lift for brand affinity and 18 percent higher lift for purchase intent than traditional banner ads, as consumers looked at native advertisements more than original editorial content (26 percent versus 24 percent). But, while this form of content allows both parties--the brand and the publication--to profit financially, one has to call integrity into question.
During one recent episode of his late-night news program, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver analyzes the current state of native advertising and content creation by highlighting the medium's flaws. Oliver's monologue features one clip of Ken Auletta, contributor at The New Yorker, in which the writer states, "Native advertising is basically saying to corporations that want to advertise, we will camouflage your ads to make them look like news stories. That's essentially it." Oliver continues to explore the somewhat deceptive nature of this strategy by emphasizing several not-so-savory examples of native advertising in action. (For more examples of native ads, check out this list compiled by Copyblogger.) The segment ends by casting doubt on said practices as publishers put consumer trust in jeopardy.
But, while many may see Oliver's position as nothing more than cynical humor, the piece has created much discussion around the good and not-so-good qualities of paid content. Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) president and CEO Randall Rothenberg recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that he's happy Oliver brought attention to this area of advertising. "Our industry needs to stop listening to itself, and get a better sense of how the real world looks at and listens to us," he said. Instead of being motivated by money, corporations and publishers must establish methods that allow the publication to maintain its journalistic integrity, while still enabling brands to benefit from their editorial expertise. Only by creating this symbiotic relationship will both parties continue to profit.
Though it's logical for brands to embrace this trend, as such tactics appear to prove fruitful, partnering publications must remain vigilant with regard to native advertising's impact on their morals. By raising questions and demonstrating how consumers perceive such methods, however, Oliver and his writing team have created quite the stir. Leaders in the space are now looking to these examples as models for what not to do. Success requires understanding. Thus, corporations and publishers must comprehend what will and will not work based on sentiment, not clicks, for the number of views will ultimately prove negligible if said strategies hinder or obliterate consumer trust in the publication entirely.