In a recent Q&A with FastCompany, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman said: “Since the day we added the commenting feature, Reddit has been home to some of the most authentic conversations you can have online.”
Reddit has certainly had a big cultural and social effect. It’s a place where many people go for news. And much of the content that pops up in other media—from the local news to Buzzfeed—is discovered on Reddit first. It’s a power attention engine and the birthplace of countless Internet memes, GIFs and viral content.
However, for all its merits, Reddit can sometimes be a purveyor of misconception. Particularly when readers treat speculation as fact.
We’re here to clear the record. After scouring Reddit for posts about native advertising, we unearthed a number of popular misconceptions about the industry. From the hilarious to the down right ridiculous, here are four misconceptions that we want to set straight.
1. Native advertising is evil
Although we find this redditor’s description of native advertising frankly hilarious, the sentiment that native advertising is “deceptive” is unfortunately quite common. Since its inception, people have worried that native advertising misleads readers by disguising advertisements as editorial content.
The fact, however, is that native advertising is not advertising imitating editorial but something else entirely. As an industry rule, a reasonable customer should always be able to distinguish between what is a paid native advertisement unit and what is publisher editorial content.
We’ve written about this before, but here’s the gist: Native advertisements must use language that conveys that the advertisement has been paid for (such as, “sponsored by” or “brought to you by”), even if the unit does not contain traditional promotional advertising messages. It must also be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of a given page and/or relative to the device that the ad is being viewed on.
All in all, clarity and prominence of the disclosure is paramount to the industry, and a great deal of effort is being put into ensuring that native ad units are properly labelled.
2. Native advertising is destroying the separation of “church and state” in publishing
Not quite. While it’s true that more and more publishers are turning to native advertising to generate revenue from their online properties, the church/state divide of journalism and advertising remains wholly intact. Why? Because the native advertising industry as a whole, alongside publishers, has been remarkably good at self-regulating and labelling native ads effectively.
Maintaining editorial integrity is essential to publisher and brand success. Think of it this way: When publishers mask native ads by removing any prominent disclosures, they destroy their credibility and risk losing the trust of their readers. Similarly, readers may foster negative association with a brand if they feel that they were tricked into clicking a native ad. The separation of "church and state" in publishing is actually vital to the long-term success of both publishers and native advertising.
This redditor also makes the argument that “there will be a large gap between those who recognize that is an advertisement and what is the news” and that this can “muddle […] public opinion on a lot of topics.”
This might be the case if it weren’t for the fact that there is near universal use of disclosure statements in native advertisements, according to the IAB. It isn’t often that you’ll find a native advertisement that doesn’t include a disclosure statement, such as “brought to you by” or “content from.” When native advertisements are properly labelled, consumers can better distinguish between native ad units and surrounding publisher editorial content.
3. Native advertising is [insert wrong definition here]
While we wholeheartedly agree with this redditor that not enough people understand what native advertising is, we have an inkling of a feeling that they themselves are a bit unclear on the definition. And although we’ve written extensively on the topic already (here, here, here & here), we’d like to take a minute to break down this redditor’s definition of native advertising in order to clarify on a few points:
First up: “A company wants to sell some product.”
The fact is that native advertising is much less about selling products than it is about raising brand awareness, engagement and affinity. In fact, according to eMarketer, branding is the leading marketing objective for native ads, while selling products falls close to the bottom.
Second: “They hire a news organization or magazine to write a story about said product and put and publish it.”
So close, yet so far. The reality is that native advertising comes in many shapes and forms, depending on the platform, the content, and how well they integrate with the user/viewer native experience. When it comes to branded content, a native ad may appear on a publisher’s site, but clicks-through to the brand’s own micro-site or content hub. In other cases, a brand and publisher may partner together to create and publish sponsored content on the publisher’s site. Native advertising is a fluid, ongoing enterprise and isn’t limited to one form.
Finally: “There it is, a fake article, squeezed in between two legit articles.”
The problem with this statement is that it leaves a crucial question unanswered: What's a fake article?
Native advertising, at its core, is a channel for distributing value-adding branded content. When a company like GE creates branded content, they don't produce over-the-top "salesy" copy, they produce content that helps readers make educated decisions about their company's growth, or that helps readers better navigate the world of innovative technologies. Check out their content hub for some examples.
The point is that value-adding branded content is meant to be beneficial to its readers. It's meant to be entertaining, education, visual, inspiring. It's meant to be innovative and disruptive. And if it is all of these things, how can it be "fake"?
4. Native advertising is ineffective for brands
Woah, woah! Another misleading definition. Rather than repeating ourselves, let’s focus on the second part of this redditor’s post—the part where they say that native advertising “causes a lot of burned money for clients due to lack of standards and an almost inherent lack of efficacy.”
We must say, this one really took us by surprise. Why? Because native advertising has proven time and time again to be much more effective than traditional display advertising. In fact, native advertising outperforms other forms of advertising in almost every metric.
According to a study by IPG Media Labs and Sharethrough, consumers looks at native ads 52 percent more frequently than native ads. Furthermore, native ads registered 9 percent higher lift for brand affinity and 18 percent higher lift for purchase intent than traditional banner ads.
And this isn’t limited to digital. According to a recent MMA report, mobile native ads perform up to 10 times better than mobile display advertising, and users gave mobile native ads 3 times more attention than traditional banner ads.
Simply put, data shows that native advertising is an incredibly effective marketing tool for brands, much more so than traditional display advertising.
Misconceptions will always exist—particularly for new industries and ideas. But at the end of the day, what’s most important to us is that people are properly informed about native advertising, its functions and benefits.
So next time you need something cleared up, just check out our blog. I’m sure we have it covered.