Native advertising: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Without doubt, advertising is a numbers game – the more people you reach, the more effective your ad will be. In the highly concentrated market of online advertising, some marketers are willing to use any means necessary to ensure their brand is recognised. From less desirable celebrity endorsements to badly executed advertorials, even highly respected brands have been known to delve into deceptive marketing practices.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Mastering digital marketing is not about the craft of deception but about grasping the art of successful content.

With such a flurry in digital marketing activity in the past few years, the use of ad-blocking software has unsurprisingly, rocketed. While the software has been available for a number of years, only recently have consumers begun to take up arms and shield themselves with more and more layers of ad-blocking armour.

In retaliation, leading men’s magazine GQ recently pushed back against the ad-blockers by asking readers to disable the ad-blocking software or pay to read articles on its website. Unsurprisingly, GQ isn’t the first outlet to attempt this. Forbes, The Washington Post and Yahoo have all made efforts to discourage people from using ad-blocking programs.

Nonetheless, more than 215 million people, 7 per cent of the entire online population, continue to use ad-blocking software while surfing the web. What’s more, newer versions of Apples iOS allow iPhone and iPad users to download apps that block ads in their browsers – another sting for websites reliant on online advertising revenue.

Today, digital marketing goes far beyond banners and pop-ups. Consumers are consistently bombarded with online adverts, e-mail marketing blasts, light boxes and suggested links. With so much promotional content available, it is only natural that consumers will learn to ignore sales driven content.

This conscious effort to install ad blockers combined with our spiralling attention spans has made online advertising more difficult than ever.  It comes as no surprise then, that in recent years, native advertising and content marketing have shot to the forefront of many PR and marketing strategies. By offering thought-provoking content, organisations can organically connect with their customers without fighting an ongoing battle against ad-blockers.

Most of us have heard of native advertising and content marketing, but it’s often difficult to differentiate the two. Unlike traditional advertising, the goal of native advertising and content marketing is not to disrupt the user experience, but to offer information that is both helpful and interesting. Usually, this will be held on a third party site, such as a news website or blog, so it isn’t directly associated to your brand and won’t automatically be dismissed as a promotional piece.

The difference is that native advertising is paid-for, sales-driven content. While the article may appear to provide value, the underlying goal of all native advertising is ultimately to sell a product or service. Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean the tone of native advertisements are pushy or sales orientated. In fact, most native advertising will follow the same format as a general editorial piece. The key difference is that, rather than offering unbiased advice or information, the article will specifically promote a product or service.

Content marketing on the other hand, aims to build trust over the long term rather than generating a quick sale. Often, pieces of content marketing will not even mention the product or service the company provides. Instead, the article will offer industry specific advice or an opinion on hot industry trends.

Generally speaking, content marketing should provide value to readers, regardless of whether they are interested in purchasing a product or service. Ultimately, of course, the goal of content marketing is to help generate sales or sales leads, but that’s just one part of the content marketing process.

For businesses, content is a valuable tool to help position themselves as industry leaders or experts. For example, if you read several interesting articles on tourism in London, authored by a West End ticketing company, the likelihood of you recognising the name and subsequently choosing the company when planning a trip to the capital increases significantly.

What’s more, getting content marketing published won’t cost you a penny. In fact, if the article is informative, useful and interesting, publishing houses will be lining up to print your content and they won’t suffer backlash from readers when they discover unexpected, hidden advertisements within.

Appearances can be deceptive. While there is a place for native advertising, it shouldn’t be above content marketing when planning a PR and marketing strategy. Consumers are naturally prone to dislike advertising and when it is poorly executed, native advertising can have a detrimental effect on the reputation of a band.

Let’s face it, nobody likes a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Laura England

Laura England


Account executive at Stone Junction