Be honest, be ethical and provide good quality content. How brands and publishers can keep consumers and regulators happy with native advertising – writes Scott Guthrie

Consumers don’t have a problem with native advertising. Red Bull, the energy drink brand, is the world’s largest extreme-sports publisher. Consumers don’t give a hoot that this high-octane content comes from a brand.

In fact according to an IPG Media Lab survey, commissioned by Forbes Media, consumers don’t just like native advertising they show it helps them with their buying decisions.

The study showed those who viewed a page containing branded content were 41% more likely to express an intent to buy the brand’s product than a visitor who viewed a page without branded content.

There are, of course, caveats. Consumers don’t have a problem with native advertising on two conditions:

  1. they’re not hoodwinked into believing it’s editorial they’re engaging with
  2. the content adds value by being good quality


native advertising best practice
Publishers and brands need to develop native advertising that is honest, ethical and good quality to keep both consumers and regulators happy

How can media companies produce better native advertising?

How can publishers follow best practice in native advertising so keeping brands, consumers and the regulators happy? The answer is to:

  1. Be honest
  2. Be ethical
  3. Create great content



Be honest – Media companies should be honest about native advertising

Consumers don’t want to feel bamboozled, hoodwinked, gulled, tricked or suckered by publishers or the brands pushing their content. When producing native advertising media companies must make sure it is clear that it is native advertising. Consumers appreciate it. Regulators demand it.


Native advertising and the regulators

In the United States regulation covering native advertising falls to the Federal Trade Commission. Last week the FTC published guidelines outlining how sponsored content should look on the internet.

Product promotion and advertising including native advertising are covered in the UK under two pieces of legislation:

  1. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
  2. The Committee of Advertising Practice Code

RELATED POST: Influencer marketing and the law

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (“CPRs”) prohibit certain unfair commercial practices. These include using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear (advertorial).

The Committee of Advertising Practice Code (the “CAP Code”) is the rulebook for non-broadcast advertisements. It requires advertising be legal, decent, honest and truthful. The CAP Code – independently administered and enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – states:

  • Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such” (rule 2.1); and
  • “Marketers and publishers must make clear that advertorials are marketing communications; for example, by heading them “advertisement feature” (rule 2.4)

See the CAP Code in full here

How native advertisers can work with the regulators

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) – the UK trade association for digital advertising –  issued Content & Native Disclosure Guidance in February 2015 to publishers to protect consumers against misleading native advertising. On top of complying with CPRs and CAP Code the IAB suggests advertisers:

“Provide consumers with prominently visual cues to enable them to understand, immediately, that they are engaging with marketing content that has been compiled by a third party in a native ad format and is not editorially independent.”

The IAB suggested this could be achieved by:

  1. Using prominent brand logos either around or within the native format, to clearly display the brand’s association to the content.
  2. Using different design formatting, fonts, colourways etc to mark the native advertising as being different to accompanying editorial content.
  3. Signposting the content clearly as advertising, branded content or native advertising by using these words to label the content.



Be ethical – Media companies should only work with ethical partners on native advertising

Media companies should only work with ethical partners on developing native advertising together. This adds to the relevance and value the native advertising offers the consumer rather than it becoming a ‘necessary evil’ of the modern publishing business model.


Be like the Guardian but learn from the Atlantic

The Guardian chose Unilever as its first native advertising partner. It created content to help connect Unilever with sustainability issues via Guardian Labs, its in-house branded content unit.

Beyond the relevance of sustainability with the news outlet’s audience the partnership worked because Unilever had a track record creating content that consumers related to and engaged with. The Guardian maintained its core belief in open journalism.

The Atlantic on the other hand wasn’t always so prudent with its partners. It infamously published a post by the Church of Scientology. Readers reacted noisily and negatively. They filled up the comments stream, which the Atlantic then censored – making a bad situation infinitely worse.


Quality counts: Media companies need to aim for highest quality native advertising

Media companies should aim high for the quality of native advertising. Quartz, owned by Atlantic Media, is staffed by financial and business journalism veterans drawn from legacy media like the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

Quartz produces native advertising for companies like the German conglomerate Siemens which brings the reader quality both through compelling storytelling and beautifully-executed design work. The online publisher is able to charge a hefty premium to its native advertising clients because of the quality of the work it produces.


Native advertising and consumer decision making

The IAB UK commissioned a qualitative study into consumer understanding of content forms of marketing and native distribution formats.

The findings show consumers make decisions on what native advertising to read based on relevance, quality and trustworthiness. Consumers choose based on:

  1. How relevant the content is to them
  2. Whether reading the native advertising will provide them with the same level of value that reading editorial content would
  3. The degree of ‘clarity and trust’ in the author, publisher or brand associated with the marketing content. Consumers trust in a brand or publisher is diminished if they feel the provenance of a piece of content is unclear.

Consumers have always had a choice. Social media has given them a voice. Consumers can help to get the native advertising they deserve by asking for proof. Demanding citations and fact-checking from media sources.


Native advertising as part of the new business model

Media’s business model used to be straightforward. Titles earned money in two ways – via subscription and through ads. But, as a rule we don’t like to pay for our content and don’t want to be interrupted by advertisements either.

As the media landscape continues to fragment and consumers increasingly turn to other influencers for information and buying cues native advertising adds a welcome avenue for media outlets and brands alike to earn revenue.

Treated honestly, ethically and delivered with high-quality native marketing can be good news for the brand, the media outlet, and consumer alike.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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