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This content is part of the Essential Guide: Customer experience affected by key touchpoints

Native advertising must be compelling, not disingenuous

Native advertising is effective when it's up front about selling -- and packaged in good storytelling. But consumers can sense when it's disingenuous.

The digital universe has moved the worlds of advertising and informational content closer together. Companies try to educate, inform and weave a story around their products to make the pitch more effective. Sometimes, the story and the product pitch are so tightly interwoven that it's hard to separate the two.

In native advertising, the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user experience. Native ad formats match the form of the user experience to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and boost user click-through rates. 

Native advertising can be effective where it is a seamless user experience, but it also shouldn't be a bait and switch. Consumers won't necessarily reject a company if it employs native advertising. They have come to terms with these ads, but only if the content is relevant and trustworthy. They can sniff out campaigns that are forced or disingenuous, and they will revolt against brands that aren't up front about content and advertising that intermingle.

Consumer expectations of online advertising 

The Edelman/Berland study Getting In-Feed Sponsored Content Right: The Consumer View measured the degree to which attitudes can be shaped by this type of communication and then converted into return for marketers' company revenue.

The study found that 86% of consumers believe that online advertising is necessary to receive free content online and 60% are more open to ads that tell a story than ones that simply sell a product. Relevancy (90%) is the top factor in sparking interest in sponsored content. The study concluded that relevancy is the top factor in the ultimate success of native advertising.

Los Gatos, California-based Netflix Inc. has embraced the concept of native ads with a series of targeted campaigns on various media platforms. It ran a contextual native ad campaign, for example, that discussed Orange Is the New Black on the New York Times website.

Admit to owning the sponsored content.

Based on the positive results of the campaign, the company decided to ramp up native ads with an initiative on Wired, which discussed TV viewing habits over the years. Netflix is using these articles to reach digital audiences looking for good storytelling -- and then reinforce the message of a subscription-based entertainment service.

Both campaigns had the intended result -- shares that helped the company reach an even larger audience beyond the original viewership. And while there is discussion about which outlet ultimately netted the bigger catch, both avenues together resulted in approximately 140,000 shares. But that is not the whole story, because the posts were also viewable on social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The average time spent on the ads topped a desirable three minutes.

To disseminate effective native ads, guidelines need to be in place. Here are some takeaways companies should consider to get the message across:

1. Be transparent. Admit to owning the sponsored content. There is a fine line between the advertorial nature of native ads and actual advertisements. Native advertising is, however, a practice in its infancy and a new concept to many consumers. To earn viewer trust, brands need to be honest that the content being published, while relevant, is advertising with a message.

2. Fit in. Viewers come to a site expecting a certain look and feel. It's up to companies employing native advertising to understand the format of the media being used so that the native ad fits what viewers expect to see on the site. Being disruptive rather than informative could be the death knell for your native ad.

3. Keep the voice of the customer front and center. As in all marketing, listening and understanding what customers want is important to delivering content that they will embrace. Fill a need with your native ads or be entertaining in a manner that fits the personality of your key customer.

4. Be a storyteller. You want your native ad to go viral, so present a compelling story that viewers want to share. Social media is a high-touch way to spread your message and interact with customers. Have a presence on these platforms so that your native ad can create word-of-mouth marketing for your product.

5. Be yourself. Consistency among the media channels is paramount. When you are not true to your core brand message -- no matter where or how it is presented -- it is confusing to consumers who know you for what you are. If you are going to go in a new direction, be up front about it so readers can go with you.

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When you spot a native ad, does that affect your opinion of the news outlet or company paying for the ad? Why or why not?
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