Lee Odden

Native Advertising: Evil, Savior or Use As Directed? You Must Choose or You May Lose

Lee Odden     Online Marketing

Native AdvertisingWhile organic search is still a critical channel for connecting consumers seeking solutions with the brands that offer them, Google seems to be slowly but surely displacing organic content with ads and it’s own content as well as removing any cause / effect signals for optimizing natural search placement. These changes have driven more companies to PPC and social.

The promise of social media has drawn huge investments from companies and brands of all sizes, and yet social networks like Facebook are making organic visibility the Yeti of the social media world. What to do? Run social ads. Create content!

Content Marketing is being touted by many as THE area for focus in 2014. At the same time, many companies are increasingly challenged to sustain brand content creation on pace with business growth goals.

Certainly the convergence of marketing and PR has brought many PR agencies into the content creation game.  The story creation capabilities of Public Relations pros for content marketing function will continue to grow in application, but will it be enough?

What’s the common thread to all of this? Native Advertising.

Native Advertising enables brands to secure high value placement where interested consumers are looking and engaged. It offers easy pay to play access to highly coveted audiences. It also creates substantial revenue opportunities for publishers and the industries that support content creation and performance optimization.

Along with many other major publishers, the New York Times recently announced it’s entree into the native advertising world with Dell as it’s first customer (Disclosure: Dell is a social media client of TopRank).

There are a lot of good questions being asked about Native Advertising: Are native ads the new face of converged marketing and PR? Is it the future of content marketing? Or is it a really, really bad idea?

For publishers, it’s about the money. Publications like the New York Times are simply following a monetization trend that publications like Forbes have clearly proven out.  Overall, the trend towards the publishing industry engaging with native ads will continue because the news and media industry are starved for revenue and it represents an all new opportunity.

But what about readers? Are native ads good for consumers? The follow up of course is whether native advertising is good for the subscribers and general readers of these publications. There are also implications for those that syndicate content from these publications.

In an ideal world, paid content only “works” if the content meets similar standards to what’s normally published through editorial filters. “Salesly” content published along side high quality editorial will be ignored or worse, cause dissension against the publication and the brand that is doing the editorial advertising. The Scientology piece that ran in The Atlantic is a good example of what can happen when things are not so clear.

My concern about native advertising: As native ads become more common and the monetization opportunities explode, there’s no question that the revenue opportunity of native ads will create some blurred lines: If a reputable publication like the AP or the New York Times is now willing to take money to publish quality advertorial, how much would it take for them to publish content that doesn’t meet editorial standards? Will editorial standards be maintained when huge payouts are available to fund businesses with other revenue streams drying up?

The bigger picture for marketers. If you know me or have read our stuff here, you know that our approach is integrated and customer focused. There will be times where native advertising makes sense. There will be times when media relations, email marketing and mobile ads make sense. Of course content, community and ease of discovery, consumption and engagement always make sense. It really all depends on the customer and business goals, not the “tactic du jour”.

I do think companies should research native ads and do some tests. Absolutely. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that any one marketing and communications tactic will be your savior. Know your customers and how they discover, consume and act on information. Then plan, implement and optimize the performance of your marketing where it makes sense.

Attract, Engage, Convert where you’ll have real business impact whether that means a new microsite promoted with publicity, email and social ads or a new report, white paper and infographic promoted through blogger relations, PPC and native ads.

What’s your take on native advertising? Evil, Savior or Use as Directed?

Photo: Shutterstock

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I think publishers who sell native advertising should be smart about it. If you start letting crap advertising in, then your audience will be unhappy and tuned out.

    Account execs selling native advertising need to deeply understand content and the publication/network they are selling it on and be exclusive in who they allow to publish native ads and discriminatory about the actual content of said ads. Only in this type of situation will consumers accept and click on native ads.

    Unfortunately, as you said, it’s driven by the desire to make money which will no doubt end in poor ads and angry consumers and a general fail.

    MySpace is a great example of this, after being sold it was quickly overcome with spammy ads which helped to turn off the masses (not the only thing but def a contributing factor).

    If everyone is working in the best interest of the end users–than native advertising can be effective for publishers, advertisers and consumers.

    • Spot on Kelly – focus on the end users and it should be a win all around.

    • I agree Kelly. When the native advertising is not relevant or valuable I think it diminishes that company’s brand and the brand that let that native ad on their site.

      We will see if the money for advertising over takes the value of providing great information.

  2. The best advice given in this article, “don’t make the mistake of thinking that any one marketing and communications tactic will be your savior. Know your customers and how they discover, consume and act on information.”

  3. Good article and good comments. I’d welcome thoughts on how to experiment and test native advertising as a tactic. Its not clear to me how you measure it or monetize it. Any ideas?