Social in-feed advertising is not native content, warns AOL research head Steve Payne

Advertisers must be wary of “blurring the lines” between native commercial content and social in-feed advertising on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tinder, according to head of planning, insight and research at AOL, Steve Payne.

Conference: AOL's Steve Payne discussed native advertising

Speaking at the IAB’s Content Conference in London, Payne countered Northern & Shell’s Nick Bradley’s earlier view that native advertising “is shit”, but warned that advertisers might not push it to its potential if they make mistakes in definition and distribution.

“In-feed isn’t the same as native,” he said. “You can’t consider in-feed advertising to be native. Is it relevant to the consumer experience? Is it interruptive to their experience? Does it look and feel like the surrounding content?

“While it might be an effective means for companies to engage with a person, to confuse it with native doesn’t help anybody. Even if you argue that an ad is well targeted, relevant to consumers experience and looks like the surrounding content, you certainly can’t argue that it’s not interruptive.

“Social feeds are curated by individuals based on their interests, their hobbies – it’s very hard not to interrupt that.”

Payne said that while he understood advertiser interest in seeking scale with native advertising reach, he warned against the commoditisation of branded content and said more understanding about how native content works alongside other ad formats was necessary in order to measure its ROI and benefits more effectively.

“We need to avoid the race to the bottom,” he said. “The idea of piling it high, selling it cheap, smashing it out, if we don’t learn the lessons from display advertising native will ultimately fail.”

He added that publishers and advertisers must work harder to establish clear boundaries on transparency and acceptable standards before it’s taken out of their hands.

“Publishers own the relationship with readers and if they’re going to mess around with it that’s where the potential for native could ultimately fall down,” he said.

“It’s up to us an industry to get ahead of the regulators before they make a decision on our behalf because if we get things wrong native could fall on its face.”

Earlier, the conference heard from the Guardian’s Anna Watkins, who heads up the publisher’s branded content division Guardian Labs on possible Google Glass opportunities, while Trinity Mirror’s Rupert Howell declared media agencies’ possessiveness of clients “pathetic”.