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IAB’s native ad guidelines will help combat bad consumer experiences but must not 'restrict' creativity, say agencies

Agencies have welcomed the IAB's move to standardise native advertising, which has seen it introduce the first wave of guidelines around the marketing technique to ensure consumers are not misled by commercial content disguised as editorial.

The Drum spoke to media and creative agencies, including Starcom MediaVest (SMG), Essence, Havas, DigitasLBi, DLKW Lowe, Doner, and Gravity Road to guage intial response from the market.

Erfan Djazmi, head of planning, EMEA, Essence

In a lot of cases native advertising has become a breeding ground for poor consumer experiences. Brands assume that because it is native they won't need to customise the creative or think about targeting, which ends up with ads that are out of context on the page.

The focus should be the same as all advertising: serving the right message, at the right time to the right audience. That means developing creative that is valuable to the user and targeting based on time and location.

Native advertising still has to prove that it increases brand health in relation to other channels – something that, if demonstrated, will shift ad spend.

The move to make the commercial nature of native advertising more clear will encourage brands to make them more relevant for users and, in time, improve the consumer experience.

Pippa Glucklich, co-ceo, Starcom MediaVest Group

Anything that delivers greater transparency and clarity for advertisers, agencies and consumers gets my vote.

The proliferation of platforms and screens has resulted in an increasing demand for content. Native advertising offers a return to engagement and therefore a fantastic opportunity for brands to get more closely connected to consumers.

If content is engaging, meaningful and authentically integrated, then consumers are open to brands being involved – but as the guidelines highlight, transparency is critical.

All industry guidelines must ensure balance and flexibility. By definition native advertising should not become standardised or overly restricted, so that the opportunity for creativity and individuality it offers can flourish.

It’s unquestionable that native advertising certainly has a strong future - according to SMG estimates, 76 per cent of UK marketers are producing more content than they did a year ago and 56 per cent plan to increase their content marketing budget this year.

Pete Edwards, chief strategy officer, Engine Group

With this sort of case I’d say that anything that adds value to the consumer experience must be welcomed. Commercial content that sets out to artificially benefit from the environment to gain customer interest does not put the customers’ benefits first, therefore this initiative is a strong statement of intent.

What would be nice if this was a springboard for further action. For instance, it would be good to see the IAB challenge the visibility issue of online advertising next…

Amy Kean, head of futures, Havas Media

Any contribution from trade bodies to reinforce the integrity of digital is welcomed, and these guidelines will definitely serve to reassure any client doubts. From a media perspective, native straddles that tricky line between content and media – what is often considered the 'best of both worlds' can actually suffer from lack of total originality or guaranteed reach... dumbed-down editorial that's not as punchy or interruptive as an ad.

However, in our experience, the format has grown up very quickly. Many of the publishers that have championed native for some time – AOL, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and mobile platforms such as ShareThrough – have done a fantastic job promoting transparency and putting the experience of the user first.

Whilst the term itself may not be commonly used by consumers, with some 49 per cent of people not knowing what 'native' is, the concept of content partnerships is a well-trodden road and readers mostly know what they're getting.

Where we need to pay particular attention from a best practice perspective is not around the content itself, but distribution of native, links and promoted posts for example, where the amount of space for 'transparency' is limited. Misleading headlines and irrelevant recommended stories could damage the reader journey and a few 'bad' editors could ruin it for everyone else.

Wayne Deakin, executive creative director, Doner

Marketing has become disproportionately homogenous in the eyes of the consumer so native advertising is a new step forward. My fear is we are going backwards by having guidelines in place at this stage. Let’s treat our audience with some respect – they’re not stupid after all. Next we will go to the movies and get a big sign flashing on screen when a brand puts product placement in a film. We should roll with it for a while before we get too hardliner.

Becca Braithwaite, media director, DigitasLBi

The standardisation of native ads risks removing the very thing which makes them so appealing – the seamless integration of brand content within a publisher’s site.

However, we are already seeing how native placements have started to move away from finding audiences for brands to share their content to becoming another direct response mechanism driving clicks to branded sites. Without great content for brands to share, these formats do start to feel little more than 'undercover banners'.

And so it seems that the IAB had little option but to provide some guidelines and ensure publishers honestly represent the difference between editorial and paid-for content. This is likely to mean the content has to work harder to drive engagement but that should be good for brands, agencies and people as it is likely to lead to more investment in good quality rather than quantity of content.

Alan Parker, managing director, digital, DLKW Lowe

I think this is a good move by the IAB. As an industry, we should welcome more transparency as it helps our relationship with the people we're trying to reach. After all, it should be the quality of our insights, the power of our ideas and the craft of the work that gives consumers a reason to engage with us. Prompting agencies to make use of these guidelines will be the first step.

Mark Boyd, founder, Gravity Road

Self-regulation and common standards offer a good reference for all those looking at native content. Broadly [these measures] are welcomed. All responsible, credible publishers should be flagging this to consumers. This should give brands the confidence to invest. I do worry we are underestimating audiences. I can smell, smelly content. It stinks.

As a consumer, I reject that brand and avoid the publisher. There are so many anomalies, a one-size-fits-all solution is always harder: PR; the entertainment business marketing films and music; kids' content – Paddington is going to need a new sign emblazoned on his chest.

This afternoon we’re working on a project with an American publisher and I'm sure brands there will be aiming stuff back across the pond later today. Policing the internet is notoriously hard. Our editorial and production business is a great British export and it must be able to compete internationally. Finally, we don’t want this to become the new “skip” button mechanic, a signpost for consumers to navigate around.

Alex Tait, digital consultant

It could be argued that the definition of native advertising as a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the user experience of the site it is on has been at odds with some of the principles of the CAP code. Namely that advertising should be responsible and not mislead.

These guidelines are a good example of the trade bodies responding to evolving advertising formats to reinforce these principles and consumer confidence in advertising”