nRelate Wants to Open the Black Box of Native Advertising

nControl is a system that enables publishers to avoid the clickbait trap and take more control over the sponsored content on their sites.


native advertising

There’s been a lot of controversy about clickbait and native advertising lately. To be clear, native advertising is when ads are integrated into the content of a publication or in social newsfeeds in the form of sponsored posts. The idea is that, aside from being labeled as sponsored, native advertisements shouldn’t look like ads at all. But consumers are constantly being inundated with ads, and aggressive advertisers have taken to targeting users with “clickbait” headlines.

According to the founders of nRelate, which started as a related content plugin for WordPress, when they started adding sponsored links to the related content, the context started to get muddy. Aggressive advertisers often tried to “bait” users into clicking a link with salacious headlines, or worse, headlines that didn’t match the corresponding article.

“We got to a place where we said, it’s kind of not OK,” says Neil Mody, CEO of nRelate. “This space and the value proposition around what we can deliver is getting attacked by advertisers doing things that we think isn’t necessarily [ethical].”

At first, they started blacklisting the most egregious offenders. But they soon realized that sometimes the less offensive (but perhaps salacious) headlines could be appropriate. The solution they created was a system called nControl that enabled publishers to have control over which links appeared in the sponsored content widget, and also allowed users to provide feedback or block ads they didn’t like.

“Ads have always been a black box for a lot of publishers,” Mody says, adding that while some ads are sold directly, a lot of the advertising is outsourced to networks. “That means the ‘what’s running’ or ‘clickbait’ goes unscrutinized until after it runs.”

With nControl, publishers have editorial control over the sponsored links using a sliding scale of zero to 100, based on maturity. Content rated at zero would be considered mild, while content rated at 100 would be considered racy or salacious, as Mody calls it. Publishers can set the scale at whatever level they choose and adjust it at any time.

While the goal isn’t necessarily to undermine the advertisers’ ability to capture the attention of consumers, the nRelate team does hope to shed some light on the issue.

“Editors can bang their heads, or they can do something,” says Oliver Wellington, nRelate’s director of business development. “Our system gives them some editorial control over what sponsored links show up on their site.”

Full disclosure: Mediabistro is a partner of nRelate.