Transparency a brand imperative (Native Advertising)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to Forrester  native advertising is  “any form of paid or sponsored content that directly and transparently contributes to the experience of the site or platform where it appears, by aligning with the format, context or purpose of that site or platform’s editorial content.  “At the end of the day we’re all trying to make money,” said Jon Carmen, senior VP-operations at native ad-tech vendor Adiant. Mr. Carmen argued that publishers are operating in difficult economic conditions and content-based ads might help.  But what about consumers, don’t they count ?

I recently read an article on some virus programs for Apple’s OSX.  What I didn’t realize was that the story was in fact native advertising for the number one listed program  To say that I was upset was an understatement.

Chris Laird, a marketing director at P&G, called transparency a brand imperative. “If it’s not transparent, and it erodes consumer trusts, the ROI falls and we just won’t invest in it anymore,” he said. Now that is someone who gets it.

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Columnist Bob Garfield delivered a resounding attack against the medium, calling native advertising a violation of the most basic publishing ethics. “A conspiracy of deception. A hustle. A racket. A grift,” he said.  I wouldn’t go that far, but publishers need to do a hell of a lot better in being transparent about native advertising because at its heart it;s still advertising trying to sell us.

You see native advertising in sponsored updates in LinkedIn, brand sponsored posts at the Atlantic or in links labeled “From around the web” at the bottom of most CNN.com stories, for example. To see some good examples, witness Sharethrough’s Sponsored Content Leaderboard.

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Native advertising can work but it has to have these essential elements:

1ne: It has to be transparent up front, not in small, hard to find microprint.

2wo: It has to be useful to the audience and should not be disguised as sales copy.

3hree: It has to be aligned with publishers’ standards and copy.

4our: It should not be used too much only when providing audiences with good transparent information leads them to the conclusion that your product solves their needs.

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Brands should not ambush people with advertising whether it’s native advertising or pop-up ads.  Intrusion is still intrusive.