Sketchy ‘Native’ Ad Will Alienate Consumers

2014 08 12   Peter Feinstein   Social Media    

So-called native advertising is back in the spotlight following a viral rant by John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Check it out if you haven’t already. Not only is it really funny, he also does a good job of defining the issue.

There is nothing new about native advertising except the terminology. It has been around for decades – in print (advertorials) and radio/TV (infomercials) – placed like content but clearly advertising.

Under the term native advertising, online advertisers and publishers are throwing everything they can think of against the wall to see what sticks. Sadly, the reason there is so much fuss about native advertising online is because many advertisers push the envelope in disguising this form of advertising as editorial content.

Practitioners of native advertising are trying to have it both ways: Creating advertising that look as much like editorial content as possible while, at the same time, asserting that they aren’t trying to deceive the consumer.

There are no industry standards regarding display or wording online. It’s up to the consumer to recognize what is advertising. And a recent survey from Contently, a startup that connects brands with content writers, found that, while most publishers assume that readers know what it means when a post is labeled “Sponsored Content,” consumers don’t really make the distinction, so they go about their merry way, thinking, incorrectly, that they’re reading fact, when it’s really fiction.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. There is such a thing as “commerce with a conscience,” and I am a big believer in it. There is no profit in alienating customers, whether you’re making deceptive claims or merely showing up where you’re not wanted.

That same survey from Contently found that:
Good advertising doesn’t annoy its target audience. And nothing appears to irritate online users, especially on social networks, than advertising that looks so much like content that it is virtually indistinguishable. Doing that is the surest way to get torched – wasting the time, effort and money you put into the ad and the buy. I’m not saying all native advertising is deceptive or evil, but before you decide to go that route, I suggest you be absolutely certain that the ad content is value-rich and clearly identified.

  • • Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand.
  • • 54 percent of readers don’t trust sponsored content.
  • • 59 percent of readers believe a news site loses credibility if it runs articles sponsored by a brand.
  • • As education level increases, so does mistrust of sponsored content.

A recent Yahoo Advertising item about how to do native advertising correctly highlighted native mobile ads that Pantene recently placed in The Weather Channel app. Along with the standard weather stats for a particular location, the app also offered “Today’s Haircast” – a fun way to bring abstract data down to earth.

At some point, genuine online news platforms are going to require that content advertising be labeled as such in order to save any vestige of credibility they have. Clean and easy. Those who resist will do so because they’re more interested in making money than being open and honest.