Native Advertising Is Advertising People Want

from the if-they-don't-want-it,-it's-not-good dept

In the internet media and advertising worlds these days, there’s been a lot of talk about so-called “native advertising.” This is advertising that is “native to the medium” or which fits within the framework of the site or service, rather than being off to the side, flashing away, hoping for attention. Depending on who you talk to, this is either wonderful and innovative, or horrible and the end of all things good in the world of media. On the plus side, people talk about how native advertising can be less annoying, less intrusive and more full of actual content than the alternatives. On the negative side, you hear talk of “advertorials,” the possibility of “tricking” readers and the breakdown of advertising and editorial independence.

I am, of course, not a neutral observer. As a site, we have engaged in what is now called “native advertising” in some form or another since way before it was ever called that. Over the past few years, we have partnered with various companies in the hope that they would be able to convince marketers and advertisers of the value of this. It was four years ago that we began writing our series of posts on why advertising is content and content is advertising.

Most recently, a few months back, we ended the last of our exclusive partnerships with various advertising firms and sought to go out on our own. One of the issues was that when working with partners, they were often looking to sell something for a bunch of sites, rather than focusing on what we could do specifically. And when you do that, you’re not really looking to be “native” to the audience in question, because you’re still looking for that scale. To some extent, we felt that we were losing ground in not being able to really work directly with advertisers to do the more compelling programs that our community wants.

And this, I think, is the key point that is often lost in the debates about native advertising. The site Digiday recently asked a bunch of publishers how they define “native advertising,” and, frankly, I think they all miss the most central component to it: truly native advertising is advertising that people want to experience. It’s not just about integrating the experience into the area where people normally look for content. It’s about making the advertising itself as compelling (if not more compelling) than any other content on a site.

Too many people automatically assume that this is impossible or that we’re talking about some sort of advertorial or “tricking” people. We’re talking about the opposite of that. We’re talking about content that is so good, and so valuable, that the community finds it useful and compelling even when they know it’s sponsored or advertising. There are, of course, plenty of examples of this happening in other contexts. A very large percentage of people watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the games. They know they’re watching advertising. But they like it, because the commercials themselves are entertaining (perhaps more entertaining than the game). Remember how many people watched that Old Spice “I’m on a horse” video a few years back? And, these days, lots of folks have been passing around Kmart’s “ship your pants” ad, not because they’re being tricked, but because it’s funny and they like it.

When done correctly with online publications, the end result of all this should be a win for the community (they get more content they want), the advertiser (they get the attention of a valuable community) and the publisher (they get to provide more valuable content and they can stay in business). There is no intrusion. There is no trickery. There is no giving people what they don’t want.

Of course, this isn’t always easy. An advertiser might not have something that a community wants. Though, in that case, it often seems like there are interesting ways to team up to deliver what people want. Buzzfeed, for example, does this by having its own editorial folks work with advertisers to produce content that people might appreciate – such as “top 10 lists” that are just as good as any other content on that site – but which comes from a marketer like Virgin America or Canon.

We, too, are striving to bring more such content to our site, which we hope you’ll find valuable. For example, we recently started an advertising relationship with the App Developers Alliance, a trade group that represents application developers, helping them to be more productive, and helping push back against things that get in their way, such as patent trolls. As a part of this relationship, you can see things like the content widget in our side bar to the right. Here’s a screenshot of it (or just look at the actual interactive one just one column over!).

This is a “sponsored” widget that we developed for the Alliance, highlighting and linking back to some of the content on their own site. As you can see, it’s all pretty relevant and interesting content for anyone who’s an app developer, or who’s interested in these general things. We think it’s pretty awesome. There is nothing “advertorial” about it. There’s nothing “sneaky” about it. It’s just a bunch of really useful content that we think many of you will find useful too. In the end, you get more useful content that you want, the App Developers Alliance gets more people aware of the excellent work that they’re doing and we get to continue publishing. It’s a true win-win-win situation that doesn’t involve anything annoying or intrusive or irrelevant. And, of course, it’s all clearly disclosed.

We’ll also be working with them on a series of sponsored posts where, again, the focus will be entirely on content that is valuable to the folks who make up the Techdirt community.

I recognize that this still will upset some, who insist that any advertising is a horrible thing. Frankly, I can’t understand that thinking, and it doesn’t make any sense at all. As we said from the beginning, all content, by itself, is advertising too. If you’re reading any post on this site, you’re reading advertising. It’s advertising for this site, for the wider Techdirt community, for us as a company, for me as a writer, and for everything else that we do. In fact, each post and the ensuing discussion is a form of advertising. When you comment on the site, you’re a part of that process as well.

Frederic Filloux recently wrote that there’s no reason to complain about native advertising if it’s properly disclosed. I’d take that one step further. There’s no reason to complain about native advertising if it’s properly disclosed and if the content is good and valuable to the community.

It’s a high bar to reach — and I actually think most of the complaints about native advertising to date have really been about the lack of understanding of that final point. People don’t like native advertising when the content itself is bad and not relevant — like when Scientology posts some lame babble on The Atlantic. Make it good, useful and relevant, and no one cares that it’s also advertising. The problem is just how difficult it is to make it good. Still, I think as people start to figure out that the central facet of truly native advertising is that it’s content that people want, they’ll start to get past many of the problems that some people have with native advertising campaigns today.

On that note, of course, we are looking for companies who believe in this vision as well, and who want to work with us to build compelling campaigns that not only get you attention, but which also provide the community here with value that they appreciate. Please contact us if you’re interested.

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Comments on “Native Advertising Is Advertising People Want”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: If content is advertising

any and all ??? sure it’s not just ALL ?? or not just “any”..

Masnick gets his income from the displaying of adds on this site, masnick generates the content on this site.

Therefore the “content” on this site is payed for by advertising. ANY content.

This very article has adds on it, the adds pay for masnick to host this article, and to write it or have it written for him.

ALL content on Techdirt is payed for by advertising.

It even say that on the ‘adds’ “A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR”.

They are sponsoring you WITH MONEY, to create content.

But so what.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: If content is advertising

First, that entire column has ‘A word from our Sponsors…’ plastered on it repeatedly. In other words, that column is labeled as advertising.
Second, as you pointed out, it lists prices for things you can spend real money on (which yes, will support the site because you’re spending money after clicking on an affiliate link).
Third, as you pointed out, the section clearly says ‘’ at the bottom.

So it’s saying it’s advertising, what the product costs, and who is providing the product.

In other words, it’s exactly what the article is talking about: clearly disclosed advertising for things that the readers may be interested in, based on the fact that they are here.

Good example!
Though your question might need work to be less confrontational to get clear explanations of what you don’t understand. It’s pretty clear most people decided to just not feed the troll, here. :-p

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If content is advertising

it’s sad you cannot define what is content and what is advertising, when you watch a movie on TV that movie is the content, it’s why you are watching that TV station, the advertising FUNDS the content, it is not in itself the advertising.

(all thought the two do get mixed with ‘advertising within content, like when the actors in the movie use a specific brand of product).

Content IS created to support advertising, that is a fact.

People come here to laugh at what stupid things masnick is saying on any one day, they don’t come here to read the adds, having the adds forced on us is the price we have to pay if we want to find out the next bizarre statement Masnick is going to come out with next time..

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Information is advertising

I was shopping for a receiver and watched dozens of completely uninformative videos from different companies. They were slick, seductive, and full of superlatives, but almost no information about the product – how it worked and how you use it. I got much more useful information from some schmoe making videos in his basement.

You don’t have to tell us a product is great and life changing. You just have to show us how it works and let us decide if we need it.

Unfortunately, there’s very little we actually need.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Information is advertising


information is information, advertising is trying to promote something you want to sell.. The add that was on this TD page was one for

Student holidays to Scotland.

So what information has that provided me with ??? That students go on holidays and sometimes in Scotland ??

it’s advertising not information.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Information is advertising

so you buy products based on the quality of the adds for that product, and how that product is presented in advertising over say ‘price’ or ‘suitability’ ??

how it works, or how to work it ? there is a difference you know.

ever though about actually thinking for yourself, reading the specifications, comparing prices, looking at the actual product and determining it suitability for us ??

I appears not, you only buy things that have adds that you can understand, and explains to you ‘how it works’.

Are you talking about a radio receiver ?? why do you need to know how it works to determine if you are going to buy it or not.

Would it not be better to find out if it receives the frequencies you want to listen too ?? or has a certain performance figure, distortion, sound quality, looks etc ??

An add for the product is not an instruction manual !! and if you don’t know how it works or how to use it, it might not be the product for you anyway.

or you could just read the fucking manual !!!

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Information is advertising

I’m talking about a receiver with internet, bluetooth, on screen displays, multiple-room outputs, and connections for dozens of devices – from a dozen different manufacturers. There’s a lot to consider.

I looked at ads, I read reviews, I looked at photos of the product and unboxings by geeks in their basement, and I even read the manual, and the advertising was the least helpful of all of these. My point was that advertising could be more helpful.

out_of_the_blue says:

This is meta-advertising that I don't want,

about advertising that I don’t want.

Let’s just put an end to all advertising on the internet. That’ll fix Google. I don’t want to pay Google to spy on me. Whoever can’t find some other way to get money, that’s their problem. — Every product costs more because of advertising, most of it insulting, nearly all of it to drive needless rabid consumerism.

Fight advertising with Noscript to prevent javascript which has almost no other purpose than using your computer against you to deliver advertising. Be sure to remove Google from its whitelist. (The Google pays to be on the whitelist!)

And use a hosts file to stop images from ad servers, and tracking with web-bugs too. Get that at:

Thorsten Roggendorf (user link) says:

Re: Re: This is meta-advertising that I don't want,

It is significantly less but yes, that is the ideal. It’s not as if it were free now. We pay that anyway, we just screw society on the way. Currently that does not work for technological reasons. These are solved, though, we’d just need to apply the solution. The real problem is social. No solution there …

pr (profile) says:

Should advertising itself should die?

In a day when communication was one way, advertising made some sort of sense. There was pretty much no way to find out about things I might want except to sit like a barnacle and wait for things to drift by that I might want to consume. If I wanted to hear about cars, GM, Ford, and Chrysler had to speak up, or I pretty much wouldn’t hear about their cars. Unfortunately, somewhere they learned that BS sold more cars than facts, probably because BS fits better than facts into a 30 second TV spot.

Those days are gone. I now have a way to find out about things that I want, and it’s interactive. Trouble is, (as jupiterkansas noted above) the people doling out the information on the other end still think of themselves as advertisers in the traditional sense, so rather than use the power of the new medium to tell me what I need to know to decide if I want to buy their product, they still use it like it’s a 30 second TV spot to be filled with BS. Just longer.

Whether it’s “native” or not, I don’t give a crap about some side show. I don’t care about who is a horse. Who cares how many web hits they got? What matters is how many people bought the product. The makers of Old Spice actually make money off of me because I buy the stuff. Because I like the way it smells. Imagine that: I lay down my cash because it does well what it’s supposed to do, and retails for an acceptable price.

There is still some value in traditional advertising, I suppose. Sometimes I need someone to tell me about something that I didn’t know that I wanted. The thing is I only need to hear about it once, then I can investigate further. (Provided the company has a web site that has meaningful content.) Once is enough, though. Maybe once a month, in case I forgot about the first time. Running the same TV ad every eight minutes for Angie’s List or Luminosity really make me wonder if the people in charge down there know what the interwebs are all about.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Should advertising itself should die?

A lot of types of advertising need to die, and a lot of advertising practices, but I’m not sure I can see advertising dying as a whole. At the core, advertising is a simple transaction: money for exposure and thus a shot at attention.

As long as the attention of the public is valuable in some way, to someone, then that someone will be willing to pay for it, and someone else will be willing to sell it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Should advertising itself should die?

true, we all know Masnick changes the nature of the content of his posts especially when it applies to Google, who are paying him.

That is when advertising is evil, it is when content is presented as content but is actually advertising.

Masnick does it all the time, how many times have you seen articles here ‘PROMOTING’ some singer, or business in the form of an article.

It’s is clearly an add, but it is equally NOT DISCLOSED as an add.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Should advertising itself should die?

“What matters is how many people bought the product.”

what has the number of people who bought the product have to do with your determination or decision to buy that product ??

Oh ok, your an Apple user.. that explains it ๐Ÿ™‚

I guess you just like to buy things because other people have them, don’t worry about function or it’s suitability for your use..

you just stick with ‘he’s got one, so I have to have one’.

Anonymous Coward says:

A very large percentage of people watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the games. They know they’re watching advertising. But they like it, because the commercials themselves are entertaining (perhaps more entertaining than the game).

Seriously? You need to hang with a different crowd. After a statement like that you should turn in your man card and be banished from using urinals for a month.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In fairness, I don’t know a single person who watches the superbowl because they actually want to see the game. The more hardcore the football fan, in fact, the more disdain they express about the superbowl as a football game.

Everyone seems to fall into one of two categories: it’s an excuse to throw a party, or they want to see the half-time ads.

Thorsten Roggendorf (user link) says:

Advertizing is evil

Content is abvertizing is bullshit. The problem is not the content but the act of getting paid for influencing people.
Free market only works when market concentration is not excessive. Advertising is one of the key factors in destroying market economy. It also destroys democracy. And it allows companies to be evil because they can often make up with advertising. Talking about content is completely beside the point.

Landpaddle (profile) says:

Until adverts cease being such a point of distribution for malicious code, and until they stop being based off of an IP’s prior history and thus violating user privacy, I will not back down from using extensions and third-party cookie blocking to keep them out of sight and out of mind.

There is already a good alternative to advertising: namely, donations. Many sites have thrown away the antiquated business model of profiting from user-frustration, and instead serve only their own plea for money directly from their readership. Chances are, with at least 1 in 50 independent legal adults who read a site regularly and enjoy its content, there will be enough cumulative donations enough to keep it afloat. This is tougher for news sources who hire journalists, since they obviously need to pay those individuals, but is viable for a number of hosting purposes and can keep independent/volunteer services afloat.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:


The bottom line for most companies is sales. There are steps along the way, like reaching a certain audience, shaping an image, building a community, etc., but in the end companies usually want to see results from whatever marketing dollars they spend.

Whether native advertising is better than all of the other many marketing options out there really depends on the product/service, the potential audience for it, the ability of the advertiser to reach buyers on its own or whether it needs help from a content provider or community builder, and so on.

The ideal situation might be for advertisers to do it all themselves in that they maintain total control of the message, they receive all the metrics/contact info directly themselves, they can better run tests to see what content and approach works best, etc.

However, not all companies have in-house content/marketing/messaging experts so they might decide there’s something to be said for attaching themselves to other websites.

I suppose if I were a content provider, I would try to make sure I can show advertisers that teaming up with me adds to their bottom line and that I offer something better than the other options they might use.

Of course, there are at least three stakeholders in all of this:

1. The reader. Is the native advertising valuable or clutter?

2. The advertiser. Is native advertising effective marketing?

3. The content provider. Does native advertising generate sufficient income without at the same time undercutting the content website?

Landpaddle (profile) says:

Re: Sales

There is one point of marketing you might be forgetting during all this (and something I didn’t notice until now). Namely, that native advertising cannot be blocked from the end-user through traditional means.

For example, the sponsored resource on the top right of the page is not counted as an external resource, and therefore becomes far more difficult to set up a HOSTS file for. Services such as NoScript or AdBlock fall flat here unless they provide very specific rulesets to combat the deeply-imbedded advertisements.

Overall, this is terrible news for the consumer due to this specific issue. They are being forced to view an advertisement with very little way of blocking it, sans preventing the node from loading altogether. I’m sorry Techdirt, but while your articles are normally wonderful,
this one is not justification for depriving user-choice.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Sales

Namely, that native advertising cannot be blocked from the end-user through traditional means.

It did occur to me. I use “ad blocking” and “do not track add-ons” and it’s amazing what I don’t see these days. It wasn’t the ads that bothered me. It was the tracking.

So, yes, native advertising can get through to me in a way that traditional online ads cannot, which is good for advertisers, I suppose.

But I am trying to downsize my consumption to such an extent that trying to sell me anything is going to be hard. Advertising in any form isn’t likely to sway me. If I want to buy something, I’ll go searching for it. If I am interested in a particular advertiser’s products, I’ll sign up for that company’s email list. (Of course, one can argue that I might not be aware of a particular company if I don’t see an ad or a sponsorship on a website. I am very interested in the tiny house movement, for example. One way for me to know who’s making houses and products for that community is to read the various tiny house blogs. On the other hand, does a company need to pay for native advertising? It could always just start its own blog to read the community.)

Do I appreciate native advertising as a way to keep content sites afloat? Yes and no. I value all the “free” content online, but I am skeptical that advertising is going to keep most content sites alive. So I’m always waiting for ad-funded sites to disappear.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Different Perspectives

I think there may be a few issues that apply from different points of view.

Take, say P&G, or Gillette, or Arby’s. They want to get their message to you. In Native Advertising, which channels do they look at? How do they create Native Advertising that gets noticed amongst all the other messages that are going to vie for those same veiws? How about targeted audiences that come to general websites: ie: feminine hygiene or Viagra, what about the non targeted folks?

From the consumer point of view, what if my favorite website misreads my desire for certain Native Advertising? Since the new way of attracting my attention is Native Advertising, how many advertisers will try to get my attention on say, this website? How many will they let try? Oh, one more, how would I find websites that showed Native Advertising that I wanted, even though I did not want the content of the website, and why would I?

Have a nice day!

Anonymous Coward says:

Techdirt Advertising & Sponsorship Policies

last updated: February 25, 2013

This is an evolving document that describes policies relating to advertising

amazing, a policy document, that has ‘evolving’ policies !!!

translation, it’s is NOT a policy, and as it’s ‘evolving’ we have the right to change it or make it what we like at any given time to suit the immediate situation !

That is NOT a policy, it’s a statement saying you have NO POLICY.

I guess you just don’t understand what a ‘policy’ is !

policies can be revised, or updated, but they cannot be an ongoing or ‘evolving’ thing, that just say you have no specific policy and that you can and will change your ‘policy’ at any time as you see fit.

“Policy statement” a FORMAL DOCUMENT outlining the ways in which an organization intends to conduct it’s affairs and act in specific circumstances.”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Techdirt Advertising & Sponsorship Policies

translation, it’s is NOT a policy, and as it’s ‘evolving’ we have the right to change it or make it what we like at any given time to suit the immediate situation !

If that’s the case, then I don’t think that any company anywhere has a policy. They are always “subject to change without notice”.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Recent Techdirt Ads

Can I complain about some of the recent inline advertising? A couple months ago, there were some Intuit ads that were designed to look like posts written by Techdirt staff. Although Techdirt had marked it as advertising, the markings weren’t all that clear and the text within the ad itself was meant to come across as an “organic” post. That sucks.

Also, a request: I want the ability to post comments on inline ads — e.g. if I see an Intuit ad, I want to be able to post an angry screed about Intuit next to it for the benefit of other Techdirt readers.

Ninja (profile) says:

I personally don’t use that devs widget. Not into it. Considering the wonders of currently available html tools I’d suggest you make the advertising portions dynamic. Ie: make it so I can customize them and add widgets with other kinds of “native” advertising.

Still I do read the headlines and maybe I’ll click on one or two depending on my mood. This widget is by far the least annoying form of ad I’ve seen here (the most were a bunch of incredibly annoying banners that either made noise or grew up when you hovered the mouse over them even by accident).

The native I like the most here are the cross posts or sponsored articles. I get to read them if I feel like and they aren’t annoying or pushy.

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Well said

I have no problem with advertising as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the other content. As you say, I actually like some ads. If the ad is informing me of a solution I didn’t know about to a problem I have, it will likely get my attention and possibly my money. The same if the ad is entertaining and funny (my wife bought me the old spice body wash specifically becuase of the ads and still does.)

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Well said

Advertising used to be the primary way to reach large numbers of people because the media provided both an information delivery system and an audience.

Now with endless amounts of content online, and the info delivery systems available to everyone, companies have far more choices available to reach consumers, provide to them, and to sell to them.

The advertisers have the control now. There are a few places that still command top prices (like the Super Bowl), but for the most part advertisers can shop around and drive down prices.

That’s why I mentioned that I am always expecting any website depending on advertising money for income to fail. There is too much content and not enough ad money to go around to support it.

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