‘Is it just me, or is native shit?’ – Northern & Shell’s Nick Bradley talks branded content

The native advertising boom risks leaving users feeling tricked and disappointed as tech companies and agencies jump on the content bandwagon, according to Northern & Shell’s head of digital sales Nick Bradley.

Speaking to The Drum ahead of the IAB Content Conference in London, Bradley said a combination of pressure on publishers to establish better advertising revenue streams and the rush from tech companies and agencies to carve a place in the market means there is a higher risk of poor content, spamming and a negative response from users.

“Is it me - or is native shit?... Native has become one of those new, annoying buzzwords in my mind, a bit like RTB [real-time bidding] and big data,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon and it’s about cutting through that noise.

“There are a lot of good tech businesses – a lot of good companies we work with – that have changed their story to become native. But what are they really doing?

“Advertorials have been running in magazines and newspapers for donkey’s years. There’s a lot of hyperbole around native that takes away from the nub of it, which is telling compelling stories, tone of voice, being authentic, making sure sponsored content is that standard of any content on the site, being transparent and not trying to trick users.”

Later, during his presentation at the conference Bradley cited statistics from Chartbeat which show users are far less likely to scroll down on native content (24 per cent) than ordinary editorial content (71 per cent), and dwell time is lower on native advertising articles.

He added that research from other sources indicates native advertising is resulting in a negative experience for many users, and warned that brands and publishers must ensure branded content is well labelled as an advert to avoid bad sentiment from readers.

Bradley joined Northern & Shell, which owns titles including the Daily Express and OK magazine, six weeks ago, and he told The Drum that the publisher’s digital presence is much higher on the agenda than it has been previously.

“We’re reasonably young in this business, we’re effectively two years old in the digital sense,” he said. “Digital wasn’t a priority for a very long time. Over the last couple of years Northern & Shell has relaunched the sites and I think certainly from a publishing point of view the sites are catching up reasonably quickly.

“We’re going to see huge developments here, digital is very high up on the agenda. To be more of a player we need more than the existing assets so it’s definitely a priority for the business.”

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