Can Native Advertising Perform Better Than Editorial?

Marketers are getting better at producing paid content that looks and reads like editorial. This trend is a byproduct of native advertising and content marketing budgets increasing since 2014. Just because native advertising is becoming more “organic,” one would think that readers might find this content inauthentic or even deceptive because the brand dilutes the authenticity of the story. Early results show that sponsored content does indeed negatively impact or has little impact on brand perception, according to a 2012 study from Harris Interactive.

IAB Edelman Report on Sponsored Content

Click to Download Full IAB Edelman Report on Sponsored Content

On the other hand, consumers’ perceived credibility of sponsored content might actually increase when the content is seen on a well-respected online publisher’s site. According to a more recent 2014 study by IAB and Edelman (interestingly, the study was also sponsored by an in-feed sponsored content company), that perceived credibility increases by 33%. More studies are being done to value the effectiveness of native advertising for brands, but what about the data behind native advertising’s performance relative to other organic editorial on a publisher’s site?

Digital Marketing Metrics for Long-Form Content

Earlier last year, Chartbeat’s chief data scientist revealed that sponsored ads that were clearly marked as “sponsored” were only clicked one third to one tenth of the time compared to surrounding editorial content. The article goes on to mention that Forbes’ BrandVoice native ads only show up 3% of the time in Forbes’ “Most Popular” list.

Forbes' BrandVoice

Forbes’ BrandVoice

These results seem to fly in the face of the IAB/Edelman study. A well-respected publication such as Forbes should, in theory, raise the credibility of the native ads on the site and lead to more views and click-throughs. For marketers, working with a big online publisher does not necessarily translate into that publisher’s entire audience engaging with your native advertising. Both the brand and publisher need to work on a promotional strategy to make sure the content gets page views and click-throughs.

Do Native Advertising Unicorns Exist?

In short, yes. In that same article where Schwartz says sponsored ads receive lower engagement than editorial, the author says an infographic the New York Times did with United Airlines generated more views than a typical story. Other big publishers are reporting similar results. Lauren Drell, Mashable’s Branded Content Editor reported that time spent on Mashable’s branded content is 50% more than the average Mashable article. Upworthy also stated that their promoted posts earn three times as many social shares and “regularly outperforms” regular stories.

Can Marketers Replicate These Successes?

Here are reasons why native advertising can outperform traditional editorial either from a relevancy or metrics-based perspective:

  1. Disclosure. The New York Times is the pioneer in standardizing how a paid post should disclose the brand or sponsor behind the story. They have strict design cues about how the sponsorship should look. From a consumer perspective, the clear disclosure should lead to higher engagement since the consumer is “opting-in” to the paid story.
  2. Promoted posts get extra promotion. The big publishers like Upworthy, Buzzfeed, and the New York Times typically sell their branded content in a bigger package. The package may include “pinning” the story in the main well on the homepage, extra social media promotion, or suggesting the story as another “story you may like to read” after the consumer finishes reading a regular story. Page view guarantees are also not uncommon in negotiations between the brand and publisher. The brand pays for the extra effort that goes into pushing a paid post.
  3. Relevancy. When a promoted post is done well, consumers will not know the difference. Even though the content is produced separate from traditional editorial, publishers are using “similar tools and storytelling techniques” as the editorial newsroom, says Michael Zimbalist, SVP of advertising products at the New York Times. The content is effective at engaging the publisher’s audience, just like any other story on the publisher’s site.

The New York Times newsroom from 1942

The Key To Native Advertising Success is the Partnership

The IAB/Edelman study establishes a few guiding principles on how marketers can succeed with native advertising: be relevant, authoritative, and authentic. To make your native advertising work, the partnership you establish with the publisher has to be rock solid. The publisher must know what type of content resonates with their audience and what performs well on social media.

At the end of the day, you must develop a partnership strategy where the publisher effectively promotes your story beyond their normal efforts. In the traditional model, a story gets published, and the story may get “picked up” by other outlets; but the story could also just be a dud. This is what makes native advertising different from editorial, and how native advertising can consistently outperform regular editorial.