Traditional digital display advertising is on the decline. Mobile web users are far savvier than early Internet users used to be.

We know when we are served a banner ad or other display. We know not to click on it. We know not to click on a promoted Google search result. Even if most app users understand that access to a free product comes at the price of having ads served to them, we still find ways to block those ads whenever possible. Or use the app less if we can’t. Consequently, advertisers are spending their budgets on native advertising.

With so much emphasis on desired user interaction, advertisers and product owners are thinking of ways to seamlessly present ads as a fluid part of a user’s content consumption experience. Facebook’s in-stream approach is the poster child this approach and others are emulating the experience. And for good reason – mobile native ads far outperform mobile display ads according to findings by the Mobile Marketing Association by as much as 1000 percent. Additionally, users pay 300 percent more attention to native and spend “40 percent more time interacting with native ads than with standard ones.” Finally, users have twice the brand recall of native over traditional ads.

Effective or Deceptive?

There is no doubt that native ads are making an impact, but there is much discussion around whether or not mobile device users enjoy the experience, or worse, view the content provider in a positive light. One could argue that its greatest strength – a fluid user experience – is its greatest weakness. In CivicScience’s 2015 insight report, survey respondents found that users often felt tricked (61 percent) by native. Because the ad content blends so well with all of the other content users are looking for – whether in app or on mobile web – users are far more likely to click thru to a native ad than a banner ad. But they don’t always enjoy the experience once they realize they’ve fallen for an advertisement. Millennials are less likely to be offended by native advertising, frequenting sites like Buzzfeed which is known for publishing heavily-sponsored content.

In an essay entitled Consumer Attitudes to Native Advertising by Shaun Austin of YouGov and Nic Newman of the Reuters Institute, the writers muse, “Readers appear to be more engaged with content that replicates the style and tone of the news brand, but as a result, are more likely to feel misled and deceived by the news brand.”

Advertisers have a responsibility to consumers to make sure they aren’t misled. Damaging consumer trust puts brand loyalty and trial in serious jeopardy. Three areas readers mark as off-limits are news, finance and politics, even though media publishers are too-often guilty of using these highly-trafficked destinations to increase their ad revenues. Media publishers need to respect consumer preference on these platforms if they don’t want to lose the trust of their readers, especially when readers have a much higher tolerance for native advertisement in areas of fashion, entertainment and lifestyle.’s Pardot offers these tips to advertisers:

  • “Make sure that your ideas are aligned with your publisher’s and that you are promoting the same message. Not only are you protecting your reputation by doing this, you’re also protecting the reputation of your publisher, helping to ensure that your relationship lasts.

  • “Clearly mark your advertisements with “advertorial,” “sponsored,” or “promoted” so that viewers don’t feel deceived when they realize that they’re reading someone else’s content.

  • “Don’t sell yourself. Native advertising isn’t about selling your product. It’s a form of content marketing, which means it should offer helpful information aimed toward the consumer. This means advertising things like informative blog articles, case studies, or white papers  — basically, content with inherent value.

  • “Always keep your consumer in mind. When you create your ad, think of how your consumers will feel when they see it. This should help you gauge whether or not your ad is intrusive, too sales-y, or just right. If you think it looks deceptive, then it probably is.”

Sponsored content is a great way brands can reach audiences, especially young audiences. But that content must always add value and not be received as trying to trick the reader. It should certainly complement the brand doing the publishing, whether in an app or on mobile web.

If you have thought through how you want to offer up ads within the context of your user’s experience, the Mobile Marketing Association recently issued guides for native advertising aimed at helping publishers, advertisers and agencies manage their campaigns across the mobile ecosystem which includes “in-feed social, in-feed content, in-feed commerce, in-map, in-game, paid search, recommendation widgets and custom.” For more information, you can download the guidelines here.

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