Forbes and Condé Nast on the power of native advertising

Check out the IAB report here.

Its case is not helped by the fact that so far nobody seems to be able to completely agree on what exactly native advertising is: does it stretch to blogger and celebrity endorsements? Is it a carefully positioned Coke cup in a Vevo video? Or does it purely refer to advertiser embedded articles within traditional online content? 

One thing is for sure: native advertising currently holds a reputation for creating blurred lines between editorial and advertising, and with a level of sophistication that traditional print advertorial could only dream of. 

This perception is potentially damaging not only for publishers but to the evolution of creativity and innovation in the digital advertising ecosystem, which has clearly outgrown the original tower and banner ad format on which it was launched. It’s also potentially damaging to the online experience of audiences, with a recent UK Association of Online Publishers study (AOP) showing that 59 per cent of consumers find native advertising to be interesting and informative. 

So just where does native advertising stand today? Why all the negativity and what are some of the positive experiences that native advertising is providing to brands and consumers? Here, through these three quick questions, Mark Howard, chief revenue officer at Forbes Media and Wil Harris, Condé Nast’s UK head of digital give us their first-hand experiences.

There has been a certain amount of negativity around native at the start of 2015 – why is that?

Howard: As 99 per cent of DCN (formerly OPA) publishers now offer native ad solutions, coupled with the explosion of native ad networks, native ad exchanges and content recommendation companies (also a form of native advertising), there is a flood of offerings in the market. In order for everyone to build awareness and create a growth business model, there are many different philosophies around what exactly native advertising is and how, when and where it should live. 

Harris: I think there is a certain amount of negativity because there is a certain amount of confusion as to what native is and what native does. We have so many different words and phrases – whether it’s native, sponsored editorial, advertorial, commercial features – that all sound similar, but no one seems to be quite sure if they are actually the same.

Secondly, there is a perception that native is about tricking readers into thinking that something is editorial when it is actually an ad. That somehow it’s about hoodwinking readers. If that were true, it would obviously be a bad thing. In my view, it’s not true (certainly not at Condé Nast, anyway). Third, the beginning of 2015 has seen an increasing trend of media companies allowing (or even mandating that) their editorial journalists work on commercial content. This has led to a worry about the erosion of the traditional church and state boundaries of media.

What are the positive experiences for consumers created by Native Advertising?

Howard: Any time a brand produces or collaborates on a piece of content that is relevant and insightful to the audience it’s targeting, there is value. Brands have deep expertise, as do their executives on topics in the line of business in which they compete. Increasingly consumers are eager to learn from anyone who has created content and thought leadership marketing that’s relevant to them, regardless of who created it as long as it’s transparently labeled and there’s no confusion over who developed the content. 

Harris: There are a lot of positives for the consumer when it comes to native advertising. The first that springs to mind is that consumers often complain about the amount of banner ads, paid text links etc. on websites – well native is a form of advertising that doesn’t rely on those banners to flourish. Indeed, native campaigns actually provide a service to the reader by giving them more content that they can choose to engage with if they want (and often the additional budgets provided by advertisers can allow for publications to create stories and pieces that wouldn’t be financially viable otherwise). The best native content is as genuinely interesting and engaging as ‘regular’ editorial.

Theory is all well and good, but can you give us any real world examples of your own experience of the practice of native advertising? 

Howard: In our fourth annual 30Under30 Forbes magazine issue, which came out the first week of January 2015, we partnered with AT&T on a cross-platform programme that consisted of an exclusive sponsorship of the Under 30 List, as well as a strong presence in the Under 30 issue. In print, we collaborated on a BrandVoice article about a young entrepreneur named Jessica Matthews, the founder of Unchartered Play. Jessica was a 2014 30 Under 30 List member and presented at our Forbes’ Under 30 Summit in October last year. AT&T was the Presenting Sponsor of our Under 30 Summit. The story in the magazine is focused on how Jessica manages her company, which is based in NY, but travels often to Asia and Africa. She uses her mobile devices to stay connected and productive regardless of wherever she is around the world. There is no mention of AT&T or its products in the story. In a first-ever for Forbes, we created a second cover for the magazine with Jessica featured prominently, calling out her story. The photography style and the design elements were the same look and feel as the 1st cover of the magazine; however, the second cover was labeled as BrandVoice by AT&T. 

This is a great example of an AT&T campaign that’s focused on building relationships with entrepreneurs. AT&T and its 360 approach to surrounding our 30 Under 30 List in print, digital and live events led the company to be able to tell Jessica’s story, which was both an interesting story for our readers and a great example of native advertising done right, integrated and aligned appropriately with the theme of our magazine issue. 

Harris: Netflix is a great example for Condé Nast, as they recently did an amazing collaboration with Wired in the US. This is really interesting and cutting edge content that, to the point above, is perfectly ‘on-brand’ for WIRED and successfully dovetails with what Netflix is about. 

Here in the UK, we have recently put together a collaboration between GQ and Bally around menswear and how-to content. 

This project involved words, pictures, video, and social media integration – and GQ readers engaged with it as they would any other content. It’s clearly labelled as being sponsored, so there’s no possible confusion. Condé Nast has been in the native advertising game for almost as long as its been publishing magazines – advertorial pages in the magazines are commercial content, created by the magazine teams, that are shot and laid out to look similar to editorial for the purpose of aligning that content closer with the editorial brand of the magazine (but is labelled as paid for to avoid reader confusion). How is that not native?

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