Native Ads Aren’t Complicated

This column is authored by Nikita Veerabhadraiah, Senior Associate, Marketing and Communication at GreedyGame

Native Ads

“Online ads are obtrusive, obnoxious and annoying”

This one sentence summed up the feelings of a majority of the 20,000 participants from 12 countries participating in the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Oxford University’s joint research.

I’m pretty sure that if you were asked to share your thoughts on the matter at hand, they wouldn’t be very different. A page that would otherwise load in half a second takes almost ten seconds to load when loaded with banner ads. Moreover, it does no good; the clutter plainly ruins the reading experience.

Imagine reading an intense political article about the conflict in Syria. You’re reading about Bashar al-Assad, chemical weapons, ISIS, human rights violations, and then poof! You’re suddenly looking at something about cheap flight tickets. At that moment when reality hits you, if someone asks you to describe online ads hand-on-heart, what words will you use? I bet “obtrusive, obnoxious and annoying” in all probability or sight variations at the very least.

Online ads are visually loud and distracting. Why? Because, essentially, they are in a place they aren’t meant to be and often act as a hindrance for consumers trying to consume content, which is why people hate them.

In fact, online ads are now getting even more “noisy and cluttering”, and I assure you that you’re not losing your mind to think so. Digiday ran a piece confirming the rise of “high impact” (read: intrusive and cluttering) ads. Within this piece, Barry Lowenthal, President of the Media Kitchen, said that in order for high-impact ads to succeed, it has to be served to the right person at the right time and in the right environment, an assumption that can be rarely replicated in real life. “Often the only thing that high impact leads to is irritation. In our quest to ‘break through’ and ‘get noticed,’ we’ve developed more intrusive ads instead of more engaging ads, which I think is much harder,” he said.

And if you needed any more proof of people’s hatred for ads, here’s an episode from South Park summing it all up:

Knowing all this, does it come as any surprise that an approximate of 200 million monthly users use adblocking software? And what of the ramifications? In 2015 alone, publishers lost almost $22 billion in online ad revenue, meaning that content creators are now struggling with their finances, thus preventing them from creating awesome content. Moreover, how are brands to reach their target demographic anymore?

Enter native advertising! ‘Native advertising’ is a term that has picked up pace in recent times, and you must have to be living under a rock to not have come across it yet. In fact, more interesting than the phrase itself are the various loud debates surrounding it.

So what is native advertising? Sharethrough defines it as “a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”

Native advertising can be classified into three broad categories – native style display, sponsorship and social.

  • Native-style display ads are ones where the advert is consciously designed in such a way that its look and feel matches that of the content.
  • In the sponsorship model, independent content creators are paid by brands to create content specifically meant to promote their products.
  • Social is an obvious reference to social media networks, where brands connect with and engage with their audience on their network and preferences.

The problem child in this happy family is the sponsorship-based model. When it was first discovered and implemented, the sponsorship model seemed to be like a golden egg laying goose for publishers and advertisers. Advertisers have always wanted to inject themselves into content, but content creators have held on to the “Church and state” rule, upholding the boundary between the two. With the sponsorship model, the line separating the two no longer exists as advertisers pay the publishers to create content catering specifically to their needs. As the advert sits camouflaged among the content, advertisers are guaranteed eyeballs and content creators rejoice at the fact that their pages aren’t cluttered with banners and other annoying forms of ads.

But what of the audiences? We are now left wondering what is “real” content and what has been paid for. Think about it – you relied on news to inform you and help you build your opinions, but now this piece of news can be sponsored by a corporation, whose aim is to sway your opinion to their advantage. And if you feel that this is far fetched, would you believe it if we told you that this is, in fact, Buzzfeed’s business model?

The sponsorship model has been receiving some serious flak, and rightly so. But as a result of this moral debate, native advertising has been shoved into the limelight. While people usually believe they know what native is all about, their knowledge is generally restricted to the sponsorship model, while having little or no knowledge of the native-display or social models. This leads them to associate the entire concept of native advertising to the sponsorship model, which means that a lot of the flak received flows over to the other forms of native.

But this isn’t true to a large extent. Take the social model as an example. Social media platforms, especially Facebook, have done a fantastic job in embracing native advertising, moralities and all. Facebook’s “suggested posts” and “recommended pages” have ensured that audiences continue to use the platform and discover brands without being interrupted by ads. Similarly there are other players in the industry who are doing wonders with native ads. A few other examples from across verticals include GreedyGame for native ads on mobile games, Sharethrough for In-feed exchange and AdsNative for programmatic native advertising.

Native advertising isn’t just one thing – it has many different forms and features. It can be a bucketload of positives, as opposed to the dark picture being painted about it. All that is really needed is discretion on the part of the publishers and advertisers on what is moral and what is not. At the end of the day, even audiences realise that a publisher will need to monetise his content to keep producing even better value content and they’re fine with ads just as long as they aren’t “obtrusive, obnoxious and annoying”.

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