AOP: ‘Native content needs to be (almost) indistinguishable from editorial to engage readers’

The Association of Publishers (AOP) has urged brands to create native content that is “almost indistinguishable’ from the editorial they are looking replicate as its latest research finds the marketing technique beginning to resonate more clearly with readers.

Advertisers are divided as to whether native advertising warrants premium pricing but evidence is emerging to ease those reservations and pull in more investment. Indeed, the latest findings from the AOP highlights the power of native advertising to create measurable value for brands when they avoid the hard sell attitude to other channels and think like a publisher.

The average uplift to brand trust from native adverts to traditional adverts was “significant”, the research found, with a third (32 per cent) of the 1,500 respondents accessing native posts on a premium content site compared to just one per cent accessing native ads from a social media post.

Some 32 per cent of readers are more likely to trust native advertising than traditional advertising, while three in five (59 per cent) native ads are “interesting”. When compared to traditional ads, 42 per cent of readers find native ad posts and “interesting” and twice as many find them “informative”.

Tim Cain, head of research at the AOP, said the findings underlined the industry’s need to look at how traditional ads can support native ads rather than it being an either/or proposition. Interestingly, those native ads backed by traditional ads saw a boost of 38 per percentage points across key brand metrics when compared to native ads used in isolation.

“The first and most important thing when it comes to native advertising [best practice] is that it has to be almost indistinguishable from editorial and be part of the normal experience for the reader,” said Cain.

His comments back IAB moves, which have been rubber stamped by the AOP, to regulate the £216m native ad industry that saw the trade body launch its first set of industry-backed guidelines to clearly signpost native ads as paid-for pieces for consumers. It is something publishers such as the Guardian and Conde Nast were already doing in order to exploit the rush for branded content that is seeing many advertisers try and adopt a publisher mindset.

Cain added: “We’ve learned that consumers don’t like being duped into believing that the content they’re reading is not related to a bran and then finding out that it actually is. It’s about being visible early and declaring your interests and that provides legitimacy to what the publisher is trying to do.”

He said that it was still early days with regard to reaction to the IABs guidelines but claimed publishers would see them as “common sense”.

A genuine premium content publisher such as our members would want to approach [native advertising in that [transparency] way because they want to keep the relationship that they have with the consumer and build on that,” he said.

“Hopefully the intention behind doing this is to make it clear to the brand and agency side.”

Lynne Springett, insight director at Time Inc UK, backed the notion and said publishers needed to spark the attitude toward native content by being more transparent. The publisher has recently restructured to provide a single point of entry for publishers and agencies, a move it hopes will elevate the role of native content in its advertising offering.

“This research on native advertising has proved some valuable points,” added Springett. “If you get it right by developing original content for a brand, in a tone of voice to which the consumer already relates, then it taps into an existing emotional connection that does the ‘heavy lifting’ in tasks such as shifting brand perception, raising awareness or increasing propensity to buy – making it popular with consumers, advertisers, and publishers alike.

“To get it right, publishers need to be transparent and make it clear who is bringing consumers this content. The audience tends not to mind that it is paid-for as long as publishers are clear about it and make sure it is interesting and engaging, and not just about the advertiser’s own product. As Howard Gossage said, ‘People read what interests them, and sometimes it's an ad.’”

The study was conducted by Tapestry Research and mixed the results of the quantative study of 1,5000 participants with 10 qualitative interviews. Six advertising campaigns were shown to the respondents across five premium publisher sites including Trinity Mirror and Marie Claier under a distracted exposure technique.

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