Forget the hype about native advertising; readers have not yet made up their minds

I'll take this moment to set out my stall early; I'm not the biggest fan of native advertising, writes Matthew Hare-Scott of Hanover.

The jury is still out on native advertising, writes Matthew Hare-Scott
The jury is still out on native advertising, writes Matthew Hare-Scott
This is not because I don’t think it works – it obviously does and it’s ultimately better than the numerous banner ads and self-starting videos that clutter up news websites.

I’m just sceptical of the value that native advertising will ultimately deliver for both news outlets and brands.

There are already concerns around transparency and conflicts of interest as specialist teams within news outlets turn their hand to becoming branded content creators, offering high quality content that looks just like other articles on their site. 

However, recent evidence suggests that a majority of readers felt deceived upon learning that a piece of content was brand-sponsored, with a detrimental impact on the credibility of those news sites that featured the content. 

Furthermore, the ASA’s recent criticisms of both The Daily Telegraph and BuzzFeed for not clearly marking some content as paid-for demonstrates how some outlets are struggling as the editorial/advertorial lines continue to blur.  

Similar incidents are likely to further erode reader trust and they could eventually go elsewhere.
And for those that do get it right, there is no guarantee that your native ad will deliver the levels of awareness and engagement to reflect your investment.  

Probably the greatest beneficiaries, and probably the biggest users, of native advertising to date have been consumer brands that can make entertaining, sharable content (let’s be honest, we all get sucked in by those lists and quizzes that pop up on our social media feeds).  

However, what readers expect from BuzzFeed is different from what readers expect from outlets like The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.  

The risks to their reputation are much bigger if the content is not right, particularly in sectors such as health, energy or social development, where content on more complex issues could more easily be mistaken for news. 

These areas also usually receive a smaller proportion of views compared with consumer content, and usually from a much more discerning audience.

As a result, PRs have their work cut out to ensure their content is not only factually accurate but also compelling enough to convince a sceptical audience to engage, and even then success is not guaranteed.

With some outlets charging upwards of £3,000 per article, a return on investment can be hard to justify.

As an alternative, some organisations such as Red Bull are experimenting with creating content on independent platforms with generally positive results.

That being said, with more readers consuming content from multiple sources, native advertising can definitely be a useful brand-building tool as part of an integrated communications campaign.  

However, it remains to be seen whether the public will embrace a greater proportion of paid-for content in the long term or whether native advertising will go the way of the banner ad.

Matthew Hare-Scott is a senior consultant at Hanover

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