We’ve written a lot here about how native advertising (aka sponsored content) is the next big thing in advertising, despite the fact that in many ways it’s existed for decades. What excites us about the most recent discussions about native advertising, however, is that it opens a world of opportunity for marketers, creators, and audiences alike. When done properly, native ads provides value for all three.
That said, native advertising isn’t easy to do well. There are certain rules brands must follow in order to keep their readers engaged and, well, not pissed off that they’re being “marketed to.” We took a look at seven media brands doing interesting things with native ads that are worth examining and perhaps emulating.
Even though the Atlantic is now somewhat notorious for screwing up (their words) at native advertising by posting a “feel good” sponsored story about the Church of Scientology that decidedly did NOT resonate with its audience, they have seen success with lots of other sponsored stories, like Where Design Meets Technology, sponsored by Porsche.
The lesson learned here is a simple one: Sponsored content must be relevant to the readers and fit their expectations about the tenor and quality of other content they’ll find on the site.
The Onion's skunkworks Onion Labs quotes Mediabistro when it comes to why they’re the perfect fit for any brand trying to reach the most coveted demographic saying, “If you’re not comfortable making fun of yourself, then you’re going to have trouble appealing to that crucial 18-30 demographic.” Word.
Onion Labs creates branded entertainment, integrated video series, custom advertising programs, and more. There are plenty of great examples on their site but what we love best is how they seamlessly integrate products into humorous videos and content they’re creating anyway.
And, of course, we’d be remiss in our duties here if we didn’t give them a shout out for one of the most meta examples of native advertising we’ve come across yet: this article titled Please Click on Our Website’s Banner Ads.
Forbes originally named its native advertising product AdVoice, but when its chief revenue officer pointed out that “It’s not an ad; it’s thought leadership,” the name was changed to Forbes BrandVoice.
Like the Onion and The Atlantic, BrandVoice is a transparent way for marketers to publish and curate sponsored content on Forbes.com. One good recent example was 10 Leadership Lessons I Wish I Learned in My 20’s. The article is sponsored by SAP which has the goal of helping companies “to not just run better, but to run in entirely new ways.” The content is a good fit. And we learned a few things.
Like all examples of native advertising that actually works, the reason we like what BuzzFeed is doing is because we actually enjoy reading the sponsored posts. They appear on the homepage looking very much like the non-sponsored stories, but are differentiated with either a box or some kind of labeling that ensures the reader knows it’s being produced with the help of a sponsor.
It’s true that sometimes the sponsorship is a bit of a stretch, like when Geico tries to compare the delight of being a kid with the delight of their customer service, but there are times it works, like this article about 14 Things We’d Only Read in the Bathroom sponsored by, well who else? Charmin.
Like the other sites on this list, advertisers can sponsor content that will appeal to readers and also have the ability to gain a lot of social traction. Mashable's piece called 5 Heartwarming Stories That Prove Dog Is Man’s Best Friend received 622 shares on Facebook and 1128 Tweets, a feel-good success for the sponsor, Purina. The only thing we find odd about Mashable’s sponsored content arrangement is that the advertiser only sponsors the content for a week. After that, the only trace is their name in the tag at the bottom of the post. We like the idea of a fixed “sponsored by” message on the post so that if someone stumbles across it a week or two later, the advertiser still gets credit for the content.
Earlier we said the Onion had the most meta example of native advertising on this list, but perhaps by including ourselves in this article, we’re actually taking that title for ourselves. At Say Media, we help marketers engage people at scale through rich experiences and quality content with a point-of-view. Our portfolio of influential media brands allows advertisers to connect with their target audience in an authentic and meaningful way that really resonates with the readers.
Take, for example, a recent campaign with Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream. Maybelline wanted to drive awareness and purchase intent of its BB Cream for the mass market. We came up with a campaign where we put the BB Cream in the hands of four xoVain editors with different skin types and lifestyles (we even tried it on twins). Because the posts were totally transparent, but also incredibly real, readers had overwhelmingly positive comments and many said they were eager to try the product.
As with all of the brands mentioned above, native advertising is all about being transparent, authentic, and real. If the readers feel like they’re getting great content, not only will they not mind that it’s sponsored, they’ll actually appreciate it.
What are some of your favorite native ads?