How effective is this form of online advertising?
SG: Some of it is quite clever but most quite annoying. Most really read like the conventional island ads which tended to be distracting. That said, we have really moved into a phase where the differences between paid, owned, earned, native, embedded, implant, insinuated have all become semantic exercises. To credit it as a whole subject in itself is possibly a waste of time. Like all other formats of paid content, it has ceased to be a ‘moral’ question. On the point of effectiveness, like any ad or story or things in between, it is simply as good as the message it carries. Any content that makes you smile or sit up is effective. Just don’t drown people with it!
AK: The best part of native advertising is that it is unobtrusive. It looks part of the content and clearly offers value to end consumers. And therefore, I do believe that native ads drive higher brand lift than traditional ad banners.
I do believe that people who have previously bought a product from an advertiser will personally identify with the brand more strongly, after viewing a native ad. Native ads are consumed the same way people view editorial content, and are likely to get more traction than other forms of advertising. This is borne out by a study that states: 25 pc more likely to look at a native ad than they were at a banner; looked at them 53 pc more frequently; checked them out 4.1 times per session on average, versus 2.7 times for banner.
Does it score over display ads?
SG: Depends on what you are promoting. Display ads carry big, bold messages. Native advertising seeks to sneak in between the lines. It is a bit of “Hi there!” and can – if used with good copy – be quite good.
AK: It scores over mindless display advertising which existed when digital was at its nascent stages (in an Indian context). Display advertising too has evolved with data intelligence mapping a user journey and exposing ads basis the content s/he has browsed. However, display is not as seamless as native advertising. It is still intrusive; which, in fact, any form of advertising is. So, I believe that native advertising scores over display ads.
Is there a trust issue with native advertising? Is editorial content trusted more?
SG: Interesting question. Is Modi-Rahul-Kejriwal ‘editorial’ and ‘social’ content trusted? My feel is that the way in which social media is becoming the voice for propaganda, populism, browbeating and busting people, advertising in any form may end up becoming more trusted. A big difference that social media has made is that we are now connecting to - and often making friends or enemies with - people who in our ordinary lives we would not even deign to acknowledge. And we are talking about personal habits and preferences to people who we have no clue about. Sooner rather than later, that form of social interaction will have a massive push back. And advertising content may seem to be the only trusted content because a strong brand sits behind it.
AK: There is no trust issue. It is a function of netizens getting used to it. Editorial content is trusted from a neutrality perspective with respect to the topic it’s meant to address. Even a blogger outreach program is a form of native advertising. However even the influential bloggers do not endorse products without they themselves firmly believing in it and knowing all its nuances. If they don’t honour the matter of credibility, it will most likely impact their reputation.
Do readers see the distinction clearly between the two?
SG: I think we can stop being naïve. One, readers do see the difference. Second, they don’t give a damn. There is so much content they are consuming today from all sources, they are growing filters in their head to deal with everyone’s memes and mind farts. So, yes, they do.
AK: Not always. However, it also reflects how well it has been seamlessly integrated. All said and done, people will read, consume and eventually make an informed decision.
Do publishers make adequate effort to distinguish the two?
SG: Some do, some don’t. As I said, I doubt it is anymore a moral question.
AK: Yes, they do.
Does native advertising dilute editorial credibility of the media brand?
SG: Not really, there are enough robust examples in print to tell you that media brands are not impacted at all. The only ones that make a huge point of their morality and editorial credibility on this score are more driven by their need to differentiate and position rather than any perceived ethics. At the end, when anyone and everyone can write and share, and information first comes from outside media channels, most media houses are getting comfortable getting off their oracle high horse. And making some money.
AK: It will depend on how it has been integrated. Media brands are built on credibility. I am sure they too will be observing this trend and making enough efforts to ensure that credibility is not compromised for the sake of added revenues. However, I do firmly believe that native advertising will make advertising more robust for media brands; as long as they have the right checks and balances in place.
(This appeared in the issue of Campaign India magazine dated 4 April 2014. Read the magazine online here.)