Saving Native Advertising from Pop-Up Syndrome: It’s Still About the Content

Saving Native Advertising from Pop-Up Syndrome It's Still About the ContentCan native advertising avoid the fate that befell banner ads and pop-ups? You know, the ads we love to ignore?

There’s an interesting update by Matt Crenshaw at AdAge that discusses some of the issues.

Spoiler Alert: It was always about the content — and it still is.

“When the concept of native advertising first gained widespread attention in 2012, it was expected to lift publishers’ fortunes and rescue digital advertising from the perpetual downward slide of display ad rates,” writes Crenshaw. “Fast-forward three years, and native has largely delivered on that promise.”

Crenshaw cites the successes of publishers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Time Inc. — all of which, he notes — “have created or expanded departments to help advertisers develop their branded content.”

It’s an important issue, as spending on native is expected to grow to $8.8 billion by 2018, up from $4.3 billion this year, if eMarketer’s forecast pans out.

Native works when it works, of course.

“When executed well, with time and care put into ensuring the content is in the right tone and has the right message, native formats blend into vertical streams in a manner that’s much less disruptive to users (while still marked as “sponsored” so as not to be deceptive),” Crenshaw says. “Meanwhile, publishers get ad inventory that users will actually look at and engage with, instead of reflexively ignoring, as many of us have trained ourselves to do with right-rail display ads.”

The problem? A little creeping ho-hum-ness.

“As native ads move toward real-time bidding and programmatic processes, they’re looking a bit like Frankenstein in some cases,” contends Crenshaw. “I’m talking about display ads that have been broken down into component parts — an image, a headline, a snippet of content and a brand logo, for instance — and automatically reassembled and injected into a publisher’s content stream. As a result, they’re frequently clumsy and appear out of context.”

Crenshaw laments that native, “instead of being the savior that helps struggling publishers stabilize and grow their business, (and) which can be shut out by ad blockers in many cases too, could end up being more of what people don’t want.”

The answer, as we said from the outset, is quality of content.

“When executed well by traditional publishers, usually when they’re selling it directly and producing it in-house, native advertising can deliver quality storytelling and also be highly effective,” Crenshaw notes. “The crucial ingredient is content that people actually want to read, as opposed to a direct-response display ad that’s been shoehorned into a content module.”

There’s much more detail and nuance in the AdAge piece to digest. If you’re working with native advertising, we urge you to read the whole thing.