At one time, Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker described native advertising as a “Faustian Pact.” He was referencing the German legend, popularized by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in which Heinrich Faust strikes a deal with the devil.
Now, Baker doesn’t find native advertising to be quite so evil.
Native advertising is a marketing tactic in which web advertisements are placed inline with the user experience. That way, they appear more natural within the context of the site’s content and lead to more clicks than banner or sidebar ads.
In short, native advertising almost looks like content produced by the publisher, as opposed to an advertiser. In that respect, it can be deceptive, which is why Baker once labeled the concept as devilish.
Now, The Wall Street Journal is running native advertising, Baker’s previous objections notwithstanding. Specifically, users see a box of ads featuring headlines, subtitles, and thumbnail images. This appears in the middle column of the newspaper’s website. The ads will be clearly labeled “Sponsor Generated Content.”
Trevor Fellows is the head of global media sales at the Journal. He says that readers won’t be confused by the native ads. “The audience has to know exactly what it’s reading. We knew that we wanted to develop much more strategic and custom solutions for advertisers. What [Mr. Baker] absolutely didn’t want to do is put something out that was indistinguishable from edit. And I agree.”
Although this makes news because the Journal had originally balked at the idea of native advertising, other reputable online journalistic outfits have already been running native ads. The New York Times started with native advertising at the beginning of this year. The Washington Post began running inline ads last year.
Are Native Ads Appropriate for Your Website?
In a word: yes.
The fact that websites that are practically household names are running native ads is fairly compelling evidence that they’re effective. These companies have the resources to research various marketing tactics as well as perform thorough A/B testing to learn what works and what doesn’t.
The success of native ads is further corroborated by Baker’s about-face on the issue. Clearly, he was made aware of some research that led him to believe that native ads were more effective than other, traditional ads.
Native ads also have the benefit of being readily apparent to website visitors without being annoying like pop-up ads. That’s a benefit in and of itself.
It is expected that marketers will spend about $2.3 billion on sponsored content this year. That includes native ads, and it represents an increase of more than 20% over last year. By 2017, it is expected that marketers will spend $3.2 billion on sponsored content.
Native advertising has the benefit of higher click-through rates than “old school” advertising. It is routinely practiced by reputable online news organizations. Why not start running native ads on your website this year?