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A Smarter And Better Way To Think About Native Advertising

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Written by on September 17, 2015

Last week, I came across yet another study that looked at the mix between editorial and native advertising. It tells the story that consumers can't tell the difference between sponsored content and editorial, and if you are a journalist or a publisher, I can already sense the tension and the animosity.

The study, of course, wasn't very good (they never are when they are designed this way). It asked 509 consumers whether they thought an article from seven leading publications was a real article, or an advertisement.

The result was predictably that most people thought the native advertising, which was designed to be an article, was indeed an article.

There are so many things wrong here.

First, the selection of articles that people could choose from where all native advertising, but the question hinted that they might not have been. This alone skews the result tremendously.

What they should have done was to include an equal number of articles that were not native advertising, and what they would probably have found was that many people thought they were ads too.

Secondly, the study's question is all wrong. It asked whether people thought the page was an advertisement or a published article?

This assumes that the content these brands made wasn't designed to inform from an editorial perspective. But if you take a look at this article from Mercedes, for instance, you will find that it wasn't designed to be an ad in the first place. Mercedes isn't trying to sell you anything. It's an editorial article like any other, with the only difference in that it was written by Mercedes.

But the study, by the way it asked people, assumed that all native advertising is advertising by its form. But it's not.

The whole point of native advertising is to turn brands into publishers.

So, this study is bogus. It was designed so that only one outcome could be reached.

This leads us to my main point here. We have to stop this silly unproductive conflict that currently exists between brands and publishers around native advertising.

It's not helping anyone.

It's not helping brands because their content ends up being posted in a disconnected non-involved way, with a warning that pretty much says 'don't trust anything you just read' because of an implied dishonesty.

I cannot imagine a more effective way for publishers to say 'this sucks'.

And it's not helping publishers, because posting content that you generally do not support looks bad - not just for the brand but for the publisher too. It's the most fake way of behaving that you can possibly do as a publisher. You should be proud of the partnerships you have, otherwise why have them?

What's the point of this? Why are you giving your readers content that you say "we had no role in?" What kind of message is that?

We need to change this unproductive and destructive mindset, both as publishers, but also as brands.

Today brands are publishers too, they are not just advertisers

Let me tell you a story of why most native advertising is not very good. It is not good as a form of advertising, nor is it good as a form of editorial content.

I have had the pleasure of having worked on all sides of the table, when it comes to the media. I have worked with the printing side, the agency side, the publishing side, the editorial side, and the branding side.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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