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Posted on Monday, September 30, 2019 at 2:58 PM

Will native advertising get your advertisers where they want to go?

By William Dunkerley

Okay, so you get a call from an ad prospect you've been chasing for a long time. He says he's ready to go with you. He likes both your print and online editions. Native advertising is his interest. He has an established product line that needs a boost. Adding you to his ad schedule will help, he believes.

What do you do?

Assuming your publication carries native ads, you take the order, of course. But then what? Your magazine may or may not help boost his sales. You are apparently his last resort. But you may be the first to go if the expected increase in sales does not materialize.

Is Native Advertising the Right Move?

The dilemma you face is that native advertising may not be his best bet for getting results. There's no point in telling him that at the outset. His mind is made up. And taking his native advertising is a good way to start cementing a relationship.

This is not unique to the hypothetical situation I’ve presented. Native advertising is in vogue in many quarters. Lots of advertisers want it. The advertising community is all for it. And publishers like you are interested in cashing in on the trend.

What's more, publishers have been getting diminishing returns from their usual ad sales efforts. They're looking to native advertising as a way to boost their lagging ad sales.

There's a hitch in that strategy though.

Finding the Right Ad Format

It is too early to know the long-term efficacy of online native advertising. Print advertising has a long history, so we know what works and what doesn't.

We've already learned from our online experience that banner ads are relatively poor performers. There's no good data about performance of online display advertising. That's because the data is contaminated.

When measuring the performance of online display, some bad decisions have been made about what qualifies as a "display." So the statistics can include things like annoying pop-ups, dreaded auto-start videos, and other forms of intrusive advertising that are pushed in readers’ faces.

Personally, I think the ideal format for online display is yet to be developed. It's a challenge because you have to accommodate the wide range of available viewing devices. But in the meantime, irritating forms of "display" ads will test the online audience’s patience.

That brings us back to native advertising. Text-based ads don't have the dimensional requirements of their display cousins. They can follow the formatting rules of editorial because they are designed to imitate editorial.

However, there is still the question of efficacy. Will they produce sustainable results? There is good reason to suspect that.

A Look Back at Institutional Advertising

What we now call native advertising is reminiscent of what used to be called institutional advertising in the print era. These were largely text-based ads.

This form of advertising never captured much share of the advertising market. Typically, institutional ads were used for brand development, not product sales.

According to Study.com, "Institutional advertising focuses on touting the benefits, ideas, or philosophies of your business, or its entire industry, to enhance or repair its reputation rather than selling a product or service."

In addition, I've seen institutional ads that I'd classify as vanity advertising. I'm thinking of messages from a CEO. They may give that individual a sense of self-importance. Then there's also self-aggrandizing rhetoric about a company.

If institutional advertising had been a big winner for those advertisers, you'd think it would have become very popular in the print era. But it didn't. And that's a lesson to keep in mind.

A Winning Ad Strategy

Now back to the original question about what to do with the new advertiser that wants to run a schedule of native advertising. Here's the strategy I'd recommend:

Right after the first institutional ad runs, get back in touch with the advertiser. Your objective should be to shift him or her to an ad format more likely to produce concrete results. But you can't hit them with that right away.

The objective of your follow-up call should be to probe the advertiser's objectives just as you would in a presale situation. Find out what the advertiser wants to accomplish.

Once you know that, you can explore with your advertiser how best to achieve those objectives. Be prepared to propose heavier use of print if you have that to offer. It's a better known quantity than online. One of the reasons many advertisers are abandoning print is not because of lagging results; it's likely because they've been influenced by the stampede toward online.

Don't sell short your online ad opportunities, though. Just be sure to guide your advertiser to use a display format that is effective and nonintrusive.

If you can lead your advertiser toward advertising formats that produce better results, you'll have a much better chance of holding on to the account.

You may even be able to upsell to larger and more lucrative schedule.

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