Many brands have started to take a more integrated approach to advertising that involves combining social, content and brand promotion.
This approach is referred to as native advertising and it’s when ads are camouflaged to match the website or social media feed they are placed on. There are a number companies that aim to help marketers with their native advertising efforts that include San Francisco based ShareThrough.
Patrick Keane is the president of ShareThrough, he spoke with CMSWire about native advertising and what his company does for its clients.
A New Kind of Ad
Before looking at what ShareThrough does there has to be more detailed explanation of what native advertising is and why it has become an important part of the advertising industry.
Historically advertisements are designed to draw a person's attention and make them interested in a product or service. On websites and social pages these ads take the form of, among other things, pop-up ads, banner ads and 30 second commercial clips. According to Keane these online ads are considered a distraction and intrusive because they take a viewer away from the webpage they clicked on. In turn, this can hurt a business' revenue and campaign efforts, instead of helping them.
With native advertising, the ad content isn't ‘front and center," it’s blended in with the page’s surroundings or newsfeed, much like product placement on television shows or movie,s and doesn't take anything away from the the visitor experience.
Native advertising is a kind of advertising that I would say is a subset of content marketing,” said Keane. "It’s advertising that takes on the form and function of an individual site either on desktop or mobile and is a way for advertisers to reach consumers in a non-interruptive, more conversational way."
ShareThrough: Analytics, Mobile and Native Ads
After its launch in 2008, ShareThrough focused on spreading its client’s videos across social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, but with advertisers moving away from the traditional advertising model, ShareThrough expanded its offerings.
We work with publishers and advertisers. Our real-time template technology automatically adds the ad’s information onto the social site,” said Keane. “It allows publishers to offer a more seamless advertising experience [to the visitor].”
More specifically, ShareThrough starts by taking ‘branded content’, such as a video, sponsored post or infographic and works with the website publishers to adapt the ad’s content to fit the site’s design. This can include matching a website’s coloring, font size or font type. The kind of webpages that ads can be added to include social newsfeeds, galleries, blogs and games. For example, on a newsfeed an ad can appear as a sponsored story, but look like a regular post from a person’s follower list so that customers still see the ad, but don't have to take their attention away from the site.
The red box shows how the ad is place within a newsfeed
Another Sharethrough feature is ShareThrough Mobile, which was launched in May. Since many customers browse sites on their tablet and smartphone devices, ShareThrough needed to make sure ads could reach their intended audience. With ShareThrough Mobile, ads can be added to apps and mobile sites as sponsored stories. As with the desktop version of Sharethrough the ad will adapt to match the site's look and feel.
ShareThrough also offers its clients analytics tracking through the ShareThrough HQ dashboard.
It looks very similar to a lot of dashboards you see for publishers, networks and ad distribution platforms,” said Keane. “We built it around strong analytics and strong metrics because we know it’s one of the most tangible mediums to understand customers, so we need to be able to offer that to advertisers.”
With ShareThrough HQ users users can track a variety engagement activity which includes clicks, how much time a viewer spent watching a video, likes and shares. The information is broken down by social media platform and site, while users can also see what others are saying about their brand and products through a ‘social activity feed’.
Overall, native advertising companies like ShareThrough are helping making product promotion and advertising a more effective process and is setting the bar for how much social reach an ad can have. Although for this approach to be successful Keane notes that marketers have to take a step back and reevaluate.
What more and more advertisers are missing in the in the equation is the user experience because the best customer experience will make the best advertiser experience,” he said. "I think a lot of advertisers are thinking about themselves without thinking about the customer first.”
Native Advertising Isn't is Perfect
While Keane does make good points on how useful native advertising is, it's not a perfect process.
One of the first issues that marketers and advertisers can have is creatively. Since native ads are integrated into news and social feeds what is posted has to be incredibly engaging and eye catching -- something that may not come easy to some.
Native advertising’s most considerable asset right now is also its greatest drawback; it both allows and forces marketers to be creative," wrote Paul Van Winssen. "Because native ads compete with organic content in the same stream, they must be compelling enough that users actually want to engage with them."
Another problem that stems from brands and companies trying to get more clicks is that these organizations may start posting content without considering its relevance or quality.
Audiences tire of poor quality content pretty swiftly, but the damage to the brand and publisher of being associated with it could be long lasting," wrote Nick Cohen. "It is therefore hugely important for brands to work with high quality writers (and ideally with the publisher's own journalists) to ensure credible results."
On the other hand, consumers may feel they are being tricked if the "ad" they clicked on isn't related to the brand in any way.
Just as brands have a right to expect that the banners they buy are "above the fold" actual impressions, buyers have a right to expect that when they are promised that their ads won't trick users," wrote Adam Kleinberg. "There should be accountability."
By not being honest a brand can hurt its credibility, social reputation and lower its customer conversion and loyalty rate.
As you can see there are many sides to the native advertising equation and we are far from getting agreement on what, if any, if the best approach to this form of content marketing.
What are your thoughts on native advertising? Let us know in the comments.