Hearst Magazines concerned that native advertising is “undermining” the brand

Hearst Magazines UK, publisher of Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, is concerned that the use of native advertising is “undermining” the brand and creating a poor customer experience for mobile users, according to its group digital sales director Stephen Edwards.

Image by Bronac McNeill Photography and Film

Speaking at The Drum’s Joy of CX event in London, Edwards said the balance between the experience for consumers and for advertisers is a “big topic” at the publisher and it is currently reassessing how it develops native advertising content.

“We’re concerned about the audience experience… and it does undermine the brand so we’re undergoing a massive process now looking at how we create content for brands that really rings true to our audience’s expectations and our brand’s heritage and history.”

Edwards said that as audiences continue to shift towards mobile, advertisers and publishers try to combat that transition and the resulting lower CPMs, by building larger adverts, which can be detrimental to the user experience.

Data-driven journalism is also a sticking point in some parts of the business, with a relatively large amount of “distrust” across some its titles.

“It really varies wildly across the portfolio; if you look at Digital Spy their understanding and adoption of data among the journalists is profound. But then you compare that to a title like Harper’s Bazaar and there is some real distrust there.

"I think that’s born out of a number of different areas; everybody knows the prevalence of data to drive headlines for instance, ‘man meets bear, guess what happens next’.

Edwards said that he looks at the idea of data driven journalism “brand by brand, audience by audience and editor by editor” to look at how Hearst can retain the value of its tone of voice that the publisher has “worked so hard to build”.

In that vein, Edwards eschewed the notion that users who visit the websites of multiple titles might begin to have a more personalised experience – for example a Cosmopolitan reader visiting the Elle site but retaining elements of the interface – because of the work it has put into developing a very specific tone of voice.

However, plans are in the works at the publisher to explore how it can create more personalised experiences in other ways.

“Right now that’s unlikely to happen because we’ve built such a clear tone around each brand and that’s what people expect right now. Looking 12 to 18 months [in the future] and beyond there is an increasing focus in our business to create personalised experiences.

“One of the fascinating things about data [is that it] will enable us to create personalised experiences and that’s where you can really demonstrate value back to reader and that’s really where we can start to create a very good relationship. We’re not there yet but we are moving down that path.”

To do that Hearst is looking at traditional data sources such as print and email subscribers, but is developing new ones, including e-commerce platforms and branded travel packages, which will then be layered onto content to see what does and doesn’t work.

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