Native affairs: Young & Shand’s Ben Young on why brands should embrace native advertising

How many of us wake up in the morning, roll over, pick up our phone, and look at our Facebook feed? An all too familiar habit.

We’re seeing that trend in the digital landscape, where content is now pushed to you through feeds, whether it’s in LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. And it’s all brought fresh to you, curated and filtered. And it’s this shift that has created the need for advertising to change. With users increasingly blind to the banners around them, ads have moved into the feed. 

This trend is called native advertising; ads that fit the form and function of the website or app that you are using, rather than taking over your screen. And there are a few different types, such as in-feed units, paid search units, recommendation widgets and promoted listings. 

The most controversial of these categories is paid content, which is commissioned by a brand and placed on a publisher’s site. A great example is a recent piece on The New York Times for Airbnb, the peer-to-peer accommodation company, which is presently battling the New York local government over what it believes are antiquated hotel laws. 

The beautifully rich article lays out a narrative around how New York has always been a beacon of hope for immigrants; how it has been the first stop for people arriving and then spreading around the US. The crux of the article is that the city is a global destination and people would prefer to stay like the locals, so they don’t feel like outsiders.

It works on a few levels. It has the reach of the title, the geographic target that Airbnb wants and it fits the tone of the publisher. The ideal situation for success.

What surprises some is how effective this kind of paid-for content is. If it’s good enough, people will read it. And this is backed up by data from our Nudge analytics platform. The average person is scrolling 70 percent and spending 1.23 attention minutes with native content.

While native grows in New Zealand—and the IAB estimates it will be worth $120 million by 2017—there are some hurdles that will need to be overcome. How do journalists balance reporting with working for a brand? The solution for many is to create a separate studio with dedicated staff and writers to produce the content. 

Adam Aston, the editorial director of The New York Times T Brand Studios, speaks to this. To do the job requires a unique set of skills. Producing branded content involves many rounds of editing and feedback over an extended period, because the content must conform to advertising standards as well as editorial standards.

Disclosure is another oft-mentioned issue. So do people reasonably know that the content is an ad? We conducted a study on this and found that the best disclosures are in the content because readers’ eyes go straight to the article. This may seem counter-intuitive. But the reader has clicked on an article they want to read and, as long as it’s good, they will. Effective disclosure also means effective brand recall.

Fuelling the growth of native advertising is mobile, where native has become the default format. As users flock to ad blocking software—198 million according to a recent Adobe study—the challenge is for native providers to continue to add value to the end user experience and avoid being lumped in with the interruptive advertising that’s being blocked.  

So where does it fit strategically? For those doing content marketing, native is a natural extension. Whether it’s promoting your own content, or using an editorial voice to bring new people in to your funnel. 

Where native plays to its strengths is in introducing your content to new audiences. If you’re finding your current marketing ecosystem is getting a bit stale, native helps put you in the right place at the right time. Let’s face it, not all your customers are on Facebook. And whether the focus is brand lift or direct response, we’ve seen success in both.

  • Ben Young is a co-founder of Young & Shand and chief executive of native analytics company Nudge. [email protected]
  • This column originally appeared in the September/October edition of NZ Marketing.

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