If you’ve been following all the trends in online marketing the past few years, you know that Google has been saying that “Content is King” for quite some time.
It’s only in the past few years that marketers have figured out how to make sense of written content as a way to advertise their products that wasn’t what Seth Godin called “interruption marketing.”
This gave rise to trends like content marketing, which I’ve written about previously. The clear trend in online marketing now is to produce content that serves the needs of its target audience. That’s why content marketing has proven so popular.
It’s also opened up the space for brands to use written content in different ways than traditional print, radio, and television advertising. Native advertising is born out of brands finding better and more direct ways of getting their content in front of their target audience.
Here’s how native advertising works.
What is Native Advertising?
Native advertising is essentially a paid advertisement. But it’s a paid advertisement that functions a little bit differently than a traditional paid advertisement.
Using written content, native advertising is essentially an ad that’s disguised as original content by the platform. Think of it the same as a traditional PPC ad on the Google SERPs. Though they clearly say “ad,” they’re still interspersed with other “non-ads” in the results.
Advertisers have found that these ads are extremely profitable, nonetheless. Plenty of people continue to click on those ads, and buy those products.
Native advertising takes the same principles as these other ads, and inserts them into written content.
In a magazine for example, native advertising might appear as an insertion that’s written as another article in the magazine, but is actually an advertisement. It’s designed to fit seamlessly into the content that surrounds it, which is why it’s often mistaken for actual content.
Why Native Advertising is Effective
The reason native advertising has proven to be so effective is that they are usually better received by their target audiences.
Because they don’t “feel” like advertisements, people are more inclined to view them and consume their content.
In traditional advertising, a graphic advertisement can be easily ignored, as people are constantly inundated with marketing ads throughout their day. Native advertising allows brands to get their message across with a greater likelihood that it gets consumed by the target audience.
As online marketers, we’re seeing more and more that, in order to keep up with the changing digital landscape, brands are embracing content marketing and/or native advertising as the means for getting their marketing messages across. This is because both of these tactics offer a more direct link to the target audience.
Over time, consumers have learned how to “tune out” the unwanted advertisements and marketing messages that they never asked to receive in the first place. Native ads and content marketing offer marketers a way to circumvent this, and get their messages in front of their audience.
You can see the evidence of this in the growth of ad-blocking software, as well as subscription models (Spotify, Pandora, etc.) that allow consumers to pay a higher fee in order to receive NO advertisements. Clearly, the old way of forcing marketing messages at people has gone as far as it possibly can.
Native Advertising is Different From Content Marketing
The main difference between these two is that native advertising is a “pay to play” service. Brands pay for the ability to put their content in places where they think their target audience will find it. Essentially, native advertising is paid media.
With content marketing, the objective is to focus on owning media, rather than paying for the ability to place it somewhere. Over time, this approach is geared towards driving profitable customer action with this owned media.
Content marketing is not advertising, while native advertising very much is.
Some Native Advertising Statistics
- Viewers spend nearly the same amount of time reading editorial content and native ads — 2 seconds and 1 second, respectively.
- 70% of individuals want to learn about products through content rather than through traditional advertising.
- People view native ads 53% more than banner ads.
How Native Advertising Works
First, a brand pays for the placement of their content on platforms of their choosing. Then, the content is created (by the brand) to have the same look and feel as the content that surrounds it on the platform. What brands are actually paying for is the ability to “rent” the platform for their own distribution.
After the content is created and approved, it’s tagged with a “warning” of sorts that may say something like “Advertisement” or “Paid Advertisement.” This creates some transparency within the platform, because it doesn’t completely disrupt the experience as say, a television commercial advertisement might.
What Native Advertising Aims to Achieve
To put it simply, native advertising is another place to put your content in front of (hopefully) the right people.
With so much content being produced these days, it’s getting ever more difficult to find the right pockets of consumers that your content is serving. Native advertising helps eliminate that guessing game, and puts your content directly into spots where your audience is most likely to read it.
Examples of Native Advertising
Here a few examples of native advertising that you may have seen before. Each of them appears to present content in a meaningful way to the target audience, but are clearly examples of advertising. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s clearly noticeable once you understand the native advertising process.
#1 – Guinness Beer
Here’s an example of a piece of native advertising that the beer company Guinness created.
This is an older ad, but it still is an important example of native advertising and how it works.
The idea is to provide some information on oysters, while also using the same ad space to sell Guinness Beer. If you look closely, you’ll see that the ad implies that these oysters would all be much better if they were enjoyed with the exact type of beer that Guinness shows in the final frame of the ad.
#2 – Church of Scientology
One of the more well-known examples came from the Church of Scientology. This native advertisement appeared on the website for The Atlantic:
This ad was widely criticized when it came out for giving a misguided view of the church while appearing to look like a normal piece of content published by The Atlantic. It highlights an important criticism of native advertising in general, and that’s that it’s a sneaky way to get your content viewed.
#3 – Dell Computers
Here’s another example along the same lines, this time from Dell.
While the title is suggestive of an article about today’s changing workplace, it’s actually a clever example of using relevant content to sell a product without immediately losing that relevance. It’s definitely conceivable that a millennial (Dell’s target consumer) could read this native ad’s content and be that much more inclined to purchase a Dell computer.
This ad is a great example of how easily native advertising can put your content right in front of your target consumer.
SEO and Native Advertising
How do search engine optimization and native advertising fit together? Like this.
The latest trend in online marketing is the emergence of content marketing as a valid method for generating exposure for brands. The driving theory is that SEO is moving away from explicit link-building, and more towards a content marketing based approach.
Native advertising is separate from SEO, however. I think that a small business that already has a strong SEO and social media base would be one that would be worth experimenting with native advertising for.
Native advertising is another arrow in your online marketing quiver, not a be-all, end-all approach. It should be one of the tactics you use, but not the whole strategy.
I tend to think of native advertising a bit along the lines of guest posting, but without the outright benefit of links. Native ads are simply another place for you to get your content into the hands of the right audience (hopefully).
Native Advertising in the Future
While it’s still a fairly new tactic, native advertising is exploding in popularity. It will be interesting to see how it evolves and changes going forward. It’s estimated that there will be $7 billion spent on native ads in 2015 alone. That number is sure to increase in the coming years.
I think that most brands can benefit from using native advertising as a tactic, but it shouldn’t inform your whole online marketing strategy. Anything that allows you to get your content in front of the right audience is something I think you should embrace.
It will be interesting to see how native advertising influences the way we consume content in the future.