Closer collaboration between those with editorial and marketing skills to make the most of native advertising could provide a model to make journalism more sustainable in digital, say the findings of a new report.
According to a study by AOL UK into the nature of native advertising, the skills needed to create the type of content proving a hit with consumers would be better derived from journalists with a sense of storytelling instead of traditional advertising copywriters.
The report acknowledged that ‘native advertising’ had become something of a buzz term in industry but with varied understanding of what it meant. Based on its findings, it concluded that a set definition of the concept could be boiled down to “sponsored content, which is relevant to the consumer experience, which is not interruptive, and which looks and feels similar to its editorial environment.”
It found that native advertising – made famous by brands such as Red Bull with the Stratos event that saw Felix Baumgartner jump to earth from the edge of space – had far higher popularity and engagement with younger consumers, or ‘Generation N’, and provided a form of advertising that was non-interruptive and much more positively received.
The report concluded that native advertising provided a bridge between editorial and marketing that was previously unnecessary in traditional advertising.
It stated: “Content is not just king; it’s queen, prince, princess, corgi and all the subjects of the realm. Editorial skills are becoming more and more valuable, and the distinction between journalism skills and advertising skills is blurring.”
Fernando Machado, global brand VP for Dove, said: “It’s about developing content that people choose to watch and share. Not developing content that you simply broadcast to brainwash people or to persuade them to do something.”
While the study acknowledged the importance of social media in the lives of younger people, it argued that social could not be considered an appropriate platform for native advertising.
“By definition, native must be tailored to the environment it is being shown in,” the report stated. “And with all of our social feeds absolutely unique to us, it’s impossible for brands to create unique native ads that are tailored to individual feeds.
“Sponsored tweets and sponsored Facebook posts reach a wide audience and enjoy high engagement, but it’s an interruptive experience for most users.”
Instead, native advertising should sit “naturally alongside the editorial” content that users are interested in, although the report warned that native advertising should be clearly labelled to avoid confusion and distrust from users.
The case of an advertorial online in The Atlantic magazine for Scientology was highlighted as an example of how not to do native advertising. The piece was distinguishable from editorial content only by a ‘sponsor content’ tag and the article – promoting the expansion of the church of Scientology – prompted a social media backlash and eventual apology from the magazine.
In terms of ownership, a collaborative approach is required between media owners, media agencies and brands to make native advertising work most effectively and return a satisfactory outcome for all parties, according to the study, which surveyed media owners, editors, journalists, brand marketers, marketing directors, CMOs and more than 2,000 consumers.
Crucially, it claimed that such collaboration could be a saving grace for the journalism industry, which has struggled to make online journalism financially sustainable despite its popularity.
The findings concluded: “Native advertising could not simply be the future for paid advertising; it could also be the future for journalism. To keep journalism alive, advertising needs to succeed. Our research has proven that this emerging advertising channel has the potential to bridge the gap between editorial and advertising, between a brand’s agenda and the audience’s agenda.
“What is needed is a fresh approach – a new relationship forged between editorial skills and marketing. Media owners are in an ideal position to lead the way forwards. They can offer a huge editorial skillset to clients and agencies.
“Brands, marketers and media organisations need to seize the day,” the report added. “Brands are increasingly looking to establish a dialogue with consumers online. Those who are brave and willing to experiment are already seeing the greatest benefits of native advertising.”
Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, part of the AOL and Huffington Post Media Group, said: “I think native is working well for the brands that are prepared to experiment and I think that every brand has that capacity, but a lot of them aren’t doing that yet because they are nervous.
“But if they continue with that tried and tested way and everyone else has moved on, including consumers, they are going to get left behind.”
In July, Yahoo’s head of search, Andy Jones, said Native advertising was bridging search and display “like never before” and said the company was seeing click-through-rates (CTRs) for native ads on its own platform driving seven times the CTR of regular display ads.