There's a reason respected news organizations like The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have dipped their toes into native advertising. Not only is it a lucrative revenue stream for those publications, but the creation of native ads also has a lot in common with traditional journalism.
Yes, native ads are serving a brand's marketing strategy, while journalism is designed to democratize information and report the facts. There are clear lines of division separating these two forms, but marketers would be wise to borrow the practices and policies of journalistic content and use them in their native campaigns. Here are some guidelines for applying those lessons.
Accuracy and Quality Are Essential
Though native advertising serves a set of client KPIs with its content, the format is obliged to match the form and function of the publisher. Because consumers approach sponsored content with certain expectations, especially when it comes to accuracy of information, the most successful native advertising delivers all good writing, research and fact-checking of its surrounding editorial kin. Not just because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires it, but also since the ad will be more successful, marketers have to find ways to tell native stories without bending the truth to serve their marketing goals.
Meanwhile, content that isn't engaging or interesting won't fare well in today's over-saturated marketplace. While journalists should always be striving for an objective version of the facts, they're storytellers, too, and native ads need to emulate this quality as well.
Let Stories Happen Naturally
A common mistake of native ads is that they push products and brands too hard, instead of highlighting the real-life problems and success stories affected by those products and services. Marketers don't need to shoehorn product placement or brand mentions into the story they're telling. What matters most is informing an audience and creating an emotional response to a relevant subject. A water filtration company, for example, could highlight stories of providing clean water to communities in developing nations, even if the company's products aren't used to provide that clean water.
Even when the brand plays only a peripheral role in the content, it can still serve marketing goals by telling valuable stories that resonate with target audiences.
Don't Pretend to Be Something You're Not
Native ads might bear a lot of similarity to journalism, but it's against FTC guidelines to pass them off as such. Native content should be clearly marked as "sponsored" or "advertiser" content, while potentially adding or linking to an explanation of how native ads differ from journalistic stories.
While some companies or publishers may want to gamble by ignoring the FTC guidelines regarding native content, both risk a bruising backlash from consumers if they're perceived as being dishonest or parading advertising as objective journalism. As the Native Advertising Institute points out, 59 percent of consumers consider native ads to be "interesting and informative," so marketers should trust that if they're creating quality content, readers will embrace it.
As long as marketers deliver native ads that match industry watchdogs' and audience expectations of quality, informative content, consumers have shown their willingness to engage with them. The native best practice of emulating journalistic standards delivers a win for all: valuable content for audiences that heightens advertisers' credibility.