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Native ads, revisited

I’ve discussed native advertisements before (you can read it here if your heart so desires) and I came to the conclusion that I dislike native ads.  I think that they’re a little bit sneaky and aren’t upfront with the fact that the purpose of the pieces aren’t to inform or entertain the public, but to persuade them to think the way they want.

Well, I’m not the only person that’s hesitant about native ads but they won’t go away.

Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism is conducting a survey to assess how native advertising affects the credibility of news sites.  Fergus Pitt, a research fellow at the Tow Center, had this to say about native ads: “Native advertising is still advertising, and to be most efficient, native advertising needs to be seen by the most valuable people, implying a degree of targeting and therefore tracking.”

This hits the nail on the head about why I dislike this form of advertising: it is a shark dressed in sheep’s clothing (is that how the phrase goes?).  And I’m not hating on the ad industry, I’ve applauded some incredible ads on this blog here and here and I don’t dislike the industry.  That’s not the point I’m trying to make.  Native ads are deceptive whereas normal advertisements are pretty straight forward.

Back to my point.

This deceptiveness caught the attention of the Better Business Bureau and they issued a warning about these ads.  To be specific, it was a compliance warning.  Pretty dramatic (just how I like things).

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The warning reminded advertisers that even if the ad is native, it is still required to follow the Digital Advertising Alliance’s (DAA) Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA Principles).  These rules (from what I can tell) regulate how advertisers track the browsing history of consumers, and how upfront they are with users that the content they are seeing is an advertisement.  The rules also call for advertisers to give users “transparency and control” meaning that ads should be clearly labeled and users should have the option to opt-out of the tracking.

The simple fact that a warning needed to be issued shows that native ads are changing the advertisement game.  Are they changing it in a good way or a bad way?  I certainly don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll figure that out at some point.

Whether or not the change is positive, negative or neutral, there is a change.  Upworthy reported that it generated more than $10 million in revenue for its publisher Upworthy Collaborations.  Upworthy also said that native ads did 38 times better than the industry standard for social content according to research done by NewsWhip, suggesting that the change is positive.

NewsWhip also reported that clients using native ads “have seen a 50 percent to 100 percent brand awareness lift and a 15 percent to 25 percent increase in positive brand association.”

Josh Luger, Upworthy’s director of revenue thinks that native ads have succeeded for them.  “Upworthy Collaborations proves that native campaigns can work best when centered around meaningful and authentic messages that resonate on a deep, emotional level with consumers,” Luger said. “We’ve continued to see growing and overwhelming demand for our native programs in 2015, and we expect that trend to continue.”

This, once again, reminds me why I’m not jumping on the native-advertisement-bandwagon.  They obviously have success when they tap into our emotions, great advertisements do just that.  The difference, however, is that it isn’t being upfront with how, or why, it wants us to connect with it.  Does it want me to feel curious and make me want to join Ancestry.com, or does it remind me how much I love old pictures and make me want to buy a Polaroid camera?  Is it telling me that it works for Ancestry.com or Polaroid?  If not, I don’t think that’s right.

It’s making money for companies, so I’m going to have to get over it.

Ugh.