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How marketers are getting native advertising wrong

While native advertising and content marketing are beginning to garner budgets and rival standard digital display, brands often misalign native campaigns with marketing objectives, which potentially can backfire and destroy credibility.

Native ad spend is expected to triple from 2013 to 2015, according to a new study on branding and performance by Purch. However, for native advertising to be effective, the messaging should have claim over its environment, speak its own language, and ultimately, belong there.

?Native is most effective when it?s truly native,? said Mike Kisseberth, COO, Purch, Lincoln Ogden, UT.

?That means it?s served within the context of the user experience and follows the natural form and function of the site it?s on.?

While the findings aren?t mobile-specific, 62 percent of advertisers surveyed reported that they will incorporate mobile campaigns in 2014, which speaks to the untapped potential of mobile native, thus far.

Brand lift
New research commissioned by Purch examined native advertising and programmatic buying, two of the top trends in the advertising and marketing industry, defining their growth and identifying specific objectives and challenges for each.

The study was conducted in Q1 2014 among high level U.S. marketer and agency advertising decision makers, spending $1 million or more on digital advertising. The survey focused on their current use and future plans for native and sponsored content and programmatic digital advertising campaigns.

Though native spend is projected to triple by 2015, critical obstacles remain.

Insufficient reporting and ROI metrics at 46 percent are the biggest challenge to success, followed by misalignment between the campaign and marketing objectives, 38 percent; required time and resource commitment, 26 percent; and native programs being insufficiently turnkey, 24 percent.

Most marketers prefer native programs that live directly in the hosting site's content well. According to Purch's findings, 47 percent are extremely likely to execute in-feed sponsored content that is consumed in an editorial-like environment on the hosting site. Only 28 percent are extremely likely to use in-feed campaigns that link to an off-site landing page.

Ostensibly, brands are taking their ads further into someone else?s editorial environment. While this seems practical, it deviates from true nativity as the advertising knows what is not, but also cannot define what it truly is.

Social promotion
Since entering the realm of social networks, brands have struggled on formulating best practices in advertisement with publishers and platforms to create content that fits seamlessly into a social stream, rather than alongside it.

Native advertisement on social media began as a way to promote brand image without essentially saying the content was being paid for and disseminated by a brand. The initial intentions behind this were to camouflage messages with non-branded content to exact trust from consumers.

The results can be seen on platforms such as Tumblr or Buzzfeed, and in well-known and successful programs such as ?promoted tweets? on Twitter and ?sponsored stories? on Facebook.

Native advertising became popular because it promised to resolve how nobody was paying attention to banner ads or pop-ups, as users were simply blocking them. Native advertising was a way of incorporating commercial messages without ruining the user experience.

However, the practice was met by backlash from fans who felt deceived into thinking posts originated from their peers when there truly paid promotions in disguise, causing companies to more blatantly differentiate advertising from regular posting activity.

To get around this and use native advertising well, brands could try creating messages that aren?t tedious and evoke emotions from their audiences. But this has proven to be difficult, as fans are rarely intrigued by brand news as much as marketers are.

Some successful native advertising includes Honda?s ?Surprising Monsters Coming Home? film about giving an indie band their big break, and Pepsi Max?s famous ?Test Drive? stunt featuring Nascar's Jeff Gordon. 

Most native strategies are not in fact native, and consumers eventually pick up on the phoniness. Like banner ads, it will work until people get used to it and filter it out too.

Brand lift
The common element driving the growth of both native and programmatic is advertisers' desire for the combination of branding (awareness) and performance (sales and conversions).

The study indicates that most native/sponsored content advertisers have branding as a main objective, 71 percent, with a large majority, 65 percent, citing sales and conversions as a top priority.

Advertisers have come to anticipate and expect an exceeding fast pace of change in the industry. Even though native advertising programs are very rarely available through programmatic platforms, 42 percent of advertisers expect to purchase them that way within the next six months, and 79 percent of advertisers expect to purchase them that way within 12 months.

?How we align marketing objectives and native campaigns will evolve concurrently with ROI metric,? Mr. Kisseberth said.

?With better native metrics comes a clearer understanding of what we can achieve by using it. Right now, it?s still early days, which is why 46 percent of our survey participants consider insufficient ROI tracking the biggest obstacle for native adoption.?

?This also explains why 71 percent cite branding objectives as the main goal for native, ahead of conversions, with 65 percent. If we can?t quantify sales ROI, branding becomes native?s primary objective,? he said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York