Remember the revolt from journalists when The Atlantic published a native ad on that “wonderful” organization known as Scientology?
Putting the disdain from journalists to the side, by appearing to be editorial content to many readers the ad did trigger more clicks, which in turn generated more revenue. I thought the phrase “ecclesiastical leader” was a particularly nice touch, playing to the high-brow nature of The Atlantic’s readership.
At the time, I wrote that while readers will accept typos, dangling participles and passive language, they will not tolerate being fooled.
I’ve changed my mind.
If a journalistic-grade narrative underpins the native advertising — storytelling techniques, visual and useful and/or informative — I don’t think people care where the content originates.
Returning to The Atlantic, after being smacked around following the Scientology fiasco, its editorial feed makes it pretty darn clear that the headline “Living Longer Is Changing Life’s Milestones” is paid content.
Still, clicking over to the paid content brings high-quality stories in the form of an infographic, slide show and articles, all crafted to touch both sides of the Baby Boomer’s brain. It’s a massive upgrade from the Scientology native ad that caused such a uproar. Between the editorial-like design and photography with attitude, it’s easy to forget you’re reading native advertising.
While The Atlantic keeps a moat between its journalists and those writing sponsored content, the publication is obviously tapping a writing pool for the paid staff who know how to string together a noun and verb.
What’s tougher to achieve is relevance in native advertising. In other words, you feature native advertising in the editorial stream that truly looks like it belongs as well as ties back to the sponsor.
Which brings us back to the issue of fooling the readers.
Relevance is the Holy Grail of native advertising. If the native ad offers an extension of the existing editorial product, it will naturally generate more clicks because readers are already there for that topic or that type of content.
It’s tough to find a publisher who delivers on the promise of two-way relevance, fits the editorial stream and connects with the sponsor’s business.
BuzzFeed comes close. The native ad from Friskies riffs on what BuzzFeed editorial has turned into an art form, the cat video.
Unfortunately, this video has the entertainment value of a Danny Bonaduce infomericial.
After raking the Internet I found one media property that absolutely nails relevance as well as industrial-grade storytelling — The Onion. Reflecting the parody style of The Onion, we discover native ads like the one from Dennys, “Study: Majority Of Frontal Lobe Occupied by Thoughts of Sausage Links.”
The study’s lead researcher Rachel Davis weighs in:
“Our research indicates that the prefrontal cortex is dominated by impulses and reflexes relating to hickory-smoked, honey-glazed, or traditional breakfast sausage.”
Beyond mimicking the Onion’s parody, the content says “Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast” without uttering the words.
I imagine many readers perceived this story that correlates sausage links with brain activity as editorial content from The Onion.
The readers got what they wanted from the content, a shard of amusement for the day.
Sidenote: The blurring line between journalism and native advertising can take different forms as discovered in the post “The Wall Street Journal Further Blends Native Advertising with Journalism.”