Tech Talk: Have You Been Tricked By “Native Advertising”? You’re Not Alone

December 7, 2012  |  

Is there “native advertising” all over this page?

Native advertising is getting a lot of press in the marketing, advertising, and media industries lately, but not as much coverage has focused on how this advertising affects users.

For the uninitiated, native advertising is branded content that appears as an ad or sponsored post on a social network or publishing site. Social sites such as Buzzfeed, Tumblr, Twitter, and even Facebook have led the trend, making their ads more integrated into the articles they publish and less of an interruption for users.

Think of Promoted Tweets that show up in your Twitter stream or the sponsored posts from Old Navy or Virgin Mobile on Buzzfeed. Besides more social sites, publishers including The Atlantic,, and Mashable have all introduced native ad options in recent weeks. Most recently, Skype announced that it will expand its advertising platform in 2013 to include native ad types such as interactive video placements.

For advertisers, these native formats have pros and cons. To start, the company must prepare unique ads for each platform they advertise on, in order to seamlessly fit in with the content, as opposed to creating one display ad to spread out over various platforms. That takes time and money. But the ads generally perform better.

Twitter has been very public about how well its ads perform. An average Promoted Tweet sees between one and three percent click-through rate (CTR). In comparison, the average CTR for Google’s Display Network in the third quarter of 2012 was 0.18 percent.

However, like advertorials and other types of branded content before them, native advertising can be misleading or confusing for readers and users. In October 2012, in-app social and mobile advertising company MediaBrix found that 88 percent of US internet users said they had been confused by a video that looked like regular content but turned out to be an ad. Additionally, Facebook’s Sponsored Stories and Twitter’s Promoted Tweets had also been misleading for 57 percent and 45 percent of respondents, respectively.

While consumers aren’t thrilled about most ads out there, they believe ads should tell a story. According to Adobe’s State of Online Advertising study from October 2012, 68 percent of consumers think online advertising is annoying and 73 percent said that advertisements should tell a unique story, not just try to sell a product.

Looking at the black community specifically, 62 percent of black consumers that digitally connect with a mobile devices told Nielsen they are OK with advertising if it means they can access content for free.

According to several sources including Nielsen, black consumers also respond better to advertising that is inclusive of their community and relevant to their lives. By creating a unique native ad, brands can connect with the black audience in a way that other types of advertising just can’t do.

Therefore, if you have to sit through ads, wouldn’t you rather have them not interrupt your experience, tell an interesting and relevant story, and fit into the overall theme and feel of the site you’re currently on?

Many are heralding native advertisements as the next game-changer in advertising. Others note that it is just advertorials for the internet age. However, with the growing interest in these types of ads, and the attitudes consumers have toward them, this is a shift in online advertising.

By focusing on angles that are interesting to customers—storytelling, relevant content, integrated experiences—advertising can become less annoying and more eye-catching and shareable, traits that are necessary in this social-sharing age. And while users aren’t thrilled with the sometimes misleading nature of native ads, this shift will eventually lead to advertising that will work seamlessly for consumers.

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