Native Advertising is Not the Future

The Online Publisher’s Association released a study on native advertising this week that pretty much validates everything we (or I, at least) thought about native campaigns  for news publications these days.

1) Native Advertising is Not the Future

OPA President Pam Horan spoke with me over the phone and says that what the study really surfaced is that native advertising “is really an outgrowth of the custom and integrated marketing that OPA publishers have been leveraging for years.” The thing is that now marketers are coming to publishers, the experts in content creation, for the “skills, content assets, infrastructure that are necessary to create effective native solutions.”

Based on their survey of publishers, the study reveals that native solutions aren’t for every publication, or for every campaign. “There’s a place for it, but I don’t think we’re moving away from banner advertising…publishers know their audiences better than anyone and they know what’s going to drive engagement.” Horan says.

Lesson: If you’re publication is going native — you probably need a really good team in the newsroom to help create and oversee the process.

2) Best Practices Are Still Evolving

I still cringe when I think about The Atlantic’s Scientology campaign. Best practices are still the main concern for publishers, namely how to best distinguish sponsored content, integrate it into the overall aesthetic of the publication, and ensure that there’s as much value in the sponsored campaign as there is in regular editorial content. 

Horan says that “it’s still early innings, and we’re still learning how to do this effectively, as an industry, we’re finding out how to do this balancing act. I thnk we’re finding some good solutions…Our audienes are very vocal, when we change the color of our homepage, even, but when we looked at consumer backlash, we’re finding none to very little consumer complaints.”

It’s all about transparancy. Horan thinks that’s key to making native work on your site:

One of the things we feel very strongly about is that over time publishers have found that their realtionship with consumers is based on touch. There are so many other places the consumer can go to get their entertainment, news, all of that, and if the publisher is not transparant, the consumer will go somewhere else

For news publications, that is the most important factor of all. It’s not just about changing fonts, or graying content out, though that’s important. But since sponsored content is integrated into the editorial feed, it’s just as important to partner with advertisers that your audience is going to respond to positively. As Horan notes, “it’s not like in print where there’s delineation, physically, from the content.”

That being said, maybe when it comes to news, it’s best to remember that native advertising doesn’t have to be for everyone.