While advertorials have been around for decades, many brands today are sponsoring articles on blogs or other online publications with large preexisting audiences to generate brand awareness and engagement.
But there are some inherent issues with sponsored content, such has a lack of brand safety, and problems with relevance and control. Because of this, many a wary media buyer have realized that a better option exists: native advertising.
“Did a person actually see my content?”
It’s a question that brands have a right to ask when it comes to digital marketing—especially in this age of rampant automated traffic and bot fraud.
So just how bad is the bot problem, you ask? Well, according to a report by Incapsula, bot traffic accounts for over 55 percent of all traffic on the web, with around 30 percent of that traffic being bad bots such as impersonators, hacking tools, scrapers and spammers. And according to research from a joint ANA/White Ops study, bot fraud is expected to take a 7.2 billion-dollar bite out of ad budgets in 2016.
This is problematic for brands that deal in sponsored content for a few reasons. First is that bot impressions distort the market by making it look as though there are more people viewing content than there really are. And, as a result, publishers are able to inflate their apparent audience size and pocket the difference between their traffic acquisition cost and the revenue received from advertisers.
Even well-known publishers aren’t immune to high bot levels. According to White Ops: “Significant bot levels affect all tiers and types of publishers. Premium, direct-buy display advertising campaigns at many well-known domains showed bot percentages higher than 10 percent.”
So what can advertisers do? Should they continue to spend their ad budgets on sponsored content and cross their fingers that the traffic they get is human? Or should they choose a different marketing channel that offers greater brand safety?
Many brands, it appears, are choosing the latter—namely through native advertising.
Thanks to tracking technologies from the likes of Doubleverify and Forensiq, native advertising platforms can report and avoid automated traffic and bot fraud with a high level of accuracy. And unlike in the case of sponsored content where advertisers must rely on the publisher to take action against bot fraud (which they often don't do), a programmatic native advertising partner will strictly vet traffic from third parties, maintain visibility and control over inventory, buy on an impression-by-impression basis, and continuously monitor for fraud.
The result? Advertisers can have confidence in the numbers from their content.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of sponsored content: Publishers gain an added revenue stream, while advertisers get exposure and views by piggybacking on a publisher's readership. But an important question has to be asked: are they the right views?
It's really a question of volume vs. relevance. Should advertisers aim to reach as many people as possible with their content, or is targeted advertising based on demographic and contextual relevance a better path to brand success? Many, it appears, believe that enabling brands to target exact audiences is the more effective option.
While top-tier publishers tend to sell themselves on their large reach and ability to offer a “general audience” based on readership demographics—household income, gender, age—there’s no guarantee that sponsored content will be read by potential customers.
A study by Moz recently confirmed this fact. Researchers tried to determine the ROI of sponsored content by analyzing the average pickups and social shares of 38 BuzzFeed campaigns. What they learned is that while BuzzFeed boasts monthly traffic numbers in the multi-millions, this doesn’t guarantee social engagement nor syndication of a campaign. In fact, when compared to branded content marketing campaigns that utilized audience targeting through native advertising, the BuzzFeed campaign performed quite poorly.
It’s for this reason, among others, that so many advertisers are moving away from sponsored content and towards programmatic native advertising as a way to engage their audiences. Indeed, the need to break through the noise and help consumers discover your branded content is what originally gave rise to the concept of native advertising
The customer targeting abilities of native advertising makes it the perfect companion to branded content, particularly branded content that resonates with specific personalities at various stages of the sales cycle. Why? Because hyper-relevancy is more important today than ever before.
It's possible to generalize the "relevance issue" of sponsored content as a lack of control. The reason why advertisers can't be sure that their sponsored content will be read by potential customers is because they don't have control over it. Once a story's been published, it's up to the publisher, not the advertiser, to drive traffic to it, optimize its visibility, and more.
Because of this many advertisers are questioning whether they should make their own content or buy it from someone else. Creativity, speed, quality and cost are all at stake. And what you gain in ease, you could lose in control.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re the media buyer of a mid-sized water sports equipment brand and you’ve been tasked with hiring an online publication to write and host a sponsored article about the joys of owning a wakeboard. So you pay $5,000 to a publisher, they commission a journalist to write the content, and once it's been written it goes live on their online site.
What happens next? Well, nothing really. The publisher may send you statistics about number of views, CTR and other similar analytics, but the transaction is essentially over. Unlike branded content (content which is hosted on an advertiser's own online property), sponsored content can't be split-tested, optimized for search words or updated—which becomes problematic when, for instance, the topic of the content suddenly becomes irrelevant or outdated.
A much safer and much more effective option is for advertisers to publish relevant, educational content to their own content hubs and micro-sites, which they can then optimize and drive traffic to through various marketing channels, including native advertising.
The overall effect: brands are able to build and engage with their target audience on their own properties rather than on someone else's.