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Advertisers and publishers are not new to ad blocking - it has been in existence since the time of desktop publishing. Over the last couple of years they have rushed to native advertising primarily because of the sharp rise in ad-blocking - working with the theory that if an ad is harder to identify as an ad, it would perform better against ad blockers. A recent study by IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough shows that consumers look at native ads 53 per cent more often than they look at traditional display ads.
But here's a problem: The ability of an ad to fool blockers relies on how well it is able to camouflage itself - as soon as the telltale "sponsored content" message appears alongside the native ad content, blocking that becomes easy. So what are brands doing to get around ad-blockers? And what are the dos and don'ts in pushing creative and editorial boundaries with paid content? Here are few lessons from what some smart brands are doing.
Take fashion brand Lifestyle's promotional campaign that highlighted its end of season sale. For the announcement ad, the company tied up with a popular content site, and created a fun and engaging article on the types of people an average shopper would meet during a sale. Lifestyle got over 20,000 social shares for the campaign. "Native advertising is about being highly contextual and more audience centric than brand centric," says Srinivasa Rao, vice-president (VP), marketing, Lifestyle. "It keeps the sanctity of the platform intact and does not intrude audience's span of attention." That the secret sauce really: don't try to deceive the consumer - try giving him relevant content instead.
Consumer PC and laptop vendor Dell India has just started experimenting with native advertising. The company recently concluded its PC Literacy Days campaign in which the key message was that personal computers were indispensable to content creation. It also talked about Dell's special EMI offer highlighting its affordability among first time buyers. To reach the tier 1 and metro audiences, Dell looked at bumper ad formats, missed call and article promotion that was native in format. The company claims that it witnessed a better engagement rate compared to its regular campaigns.
Weddingz.in spends 80 to 90 per cent of its marketing budget on online marketing through native content and ads. Sharing the key to getting the native ad experience right for the brand as well as the consumer, Sandeep Lodha, CEO, Weddingz.in, says, "Readers will outright reject content that sounds like a sales pitch. This is especially true in case of blogs and content marketing. It's also important to know where not to advertise as it can lead to brand dilution."
For Shamik Banerjee, chief marketing officer, Aegon Life Insurance, the biggest test for native ads lies in the creativity of the marketer. He says, "It boils down to how well you know your customer." Emotive communication may not be effective; the communication should add value and it should never... repeat... never disrupt an user's online experience.
That's also what Pratik Shah, vice-president marketing, Craftsvilla.com, would recommend: "Successful integration and relevance makes native advertising stand out. If the native ad experience does not offer that, users are quick to push back," he says. Zafar Rais, chief executive officer, MindShift Interactive, suggests that brands such as BuzzFeed focus on creating content that is shareable. "Successful native advertising conveys a sponsored message through storytelling."
In all this, the advertiser has to remember that he needs to track the result to be able to modify its ad and improve. Ritu Gupta, director, marketing, consumer and small business, Dell India, says, "Currently, most publishers have their own ad formats and hence an advertiser has far too many sets of rules to adhere to. Also, tracking the overall result becomes difficult for media platforms that are not using specialised software to help them track their results across channels."
BBC, for instance, asks brands to look beyond clicks. John Williams, VP, South East Asia and South Asia, BBC advertising sales, says, "While these do work well, we recognise that the role of native content isn't just to drive clicks etc, but rather to create and nurture an emotional and engaged response between reader, publisher and advertising partner. The traditional metrics don't measure the emotional aspects of native content and as such measurement of native is effectively being under reported."
Much depends on changing the advertiser's mindset. Sapna Desai, head, marketing and communication, Cigna TTK Health Insurance, says, "Over the years, marketers have been moulded into direct response-first thinkers: drive traffic, increase conversions, and then increase sales." At a time when consumers are bombarded with offers and deals daily, companies should focus on using native ads to connect with consumers on a deeper level, rather than scout for short-term benefits.
The good thing is publishers are actively handholding advertisers to get around entry hurdles. Twitter India, for instance, offers brands the know-how to leverage native advertising through a host of products such as Promoted Tweet, Promoted Trend, and Native Video, that surface in the form of content that the user is familiar with. "Brands need to be where their customers are, but that is increasingly a challenge as consumers' consumption of content today takes place across multiple platforms, from TV to online to mobile apps. Not every brand has the capacity to develop campaigns for multiple platforms," says Taranjeet Singh, business head, Twitter India.
Just as brands are struggling to get the content format right, publishers are facing their own set of challenges. "Going by our experience, we recommend that native ad slots shouldn't be fixed," says Sumit Kumar, director global sales and strategy and commerce, Tyroo Technologies. "Fixed slots leave an empty area in between the news feeds in case there is no response on the native ads. Therefore, native ads should be created dynamically based on user interaction like scroll etc. and the ad response from server." Meanwhile, Aloke Bajpai, CEO, ixigo.com, believes that publishers face a double-edged sword, "as they have to ensure that there is a premium on native advertising and at the same time the inventory does not go underutilised."
For Nitin Agarwal, assistant VP, marketing, ShopClues, buying native inventory over an exchange continues to be a challenge. He adds, "A majority of the inventory is with publishers and direct talks with their sales team reduces advertisers' ability of negotiating."
"There's a sheer real estate problem to start with," says Suparna Singh, CEO, NDTV Convergence. "For one, we have strict rules about how much advertiser-driven content we will allow on our platforms." That said, she asserts, "if handled carefully and chosen selectively, native advertising - with clear and full disclosure that it is paid content - can help compensate for a serious loss of revenue caused by ad blocking". A key concern for publishers is maintaining editorial integrity as they partner advertisers for branded content. Arnav Ghosh, CEO, Blippar India, emphasises, "Content mismatch needs to be taken care of - which means that the editorial veracity plays a crucial role."
To fix this missing piece of the jigsaw, BBC StoryWorks' new "Science of Engagement" (SoE) research project, has been exploring facial coding techniques and it suggests the maxim that "your face never lies" holds true. The SoE facial coding measured an individual's unconscious response to partnered content, looking at both branded and unbranded pieces. According to the research - well executed and clearly labelled content-led marketing is considered trusted and persuasive when seen in quality environments, and has a powerful emotional impact for the brands involved.
Most importantly, says, Williams, "Native advertising requires a client that is committed to the project and who is willing to work collaboratively and dedicate time, effort and resource. In addition there is often a longer production process than that which is associated with branded partnerships, so these expectations need to be managed. It also needs to be supported by a strong social media campaign because promoting and amplifying the content is crucial - this needs to be hard baked into the proposal from the outset."
|Six things to remember while using native ads: Gurmit Singh|
VP & MD, yahoo! india