What’s in store for native advertising? Will it evolve and develop thanks to content that’s trustworthy, creative and valuable? Or will we slap a thin coat of storytelling on top of old-fashioned marketing, and see native go the way of the banner – so ignored that we talk of “banner blindness”?

It’s entirely up to us that work with native advertising to decide this. The brands behind it, the media outlets offering the platforms for it and the agencies producing the content. It’s the decisions we make today that will determine the state of native in the future.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the state of native advertising in Scandinavia, while speaking about it in both Copenhagen and Stockholm. And I believe the situation here is fairly similar to the state of native in other parts of the world. The way I see it native advertising is standing before a fork in the road.

Two paths

Either we live up to what native is meant to be. Content that is just as good as the editorial content on a media platform, or very close to it. Clearly marked as paid, so as not to fool anyone, but with a relevance and a value to the user.

Or we can dump inferior content, what one publisher in Stockholm dubbed “sloppy reporting” onto media sites, adding no value whatsoever to the user. The only value in this would be for the brand and the media outlet, taking advantage of the audience before they wise up to what is going on and stop interacting with native advertising altogether.

And it’s entirely up to us to decide on which path to take. There is no map or existing rule that determines that we have to take the path of sloppy reporting (or the other one for that matter). There are no guidelines saying that we have to offer valuable content or lure user to our stuff. The only thing that is certain is that we have this choice, and that a lot of brands and media outlets have already made it.

Sloppy reporting

When I look closely at native ads in Scandinavia today that I don’t think work well there are three common traits I see:

1. The stories they’re telling are pretty thin. There isn’t a lot of substance to them. The experts being interviewed don’t really have a lot of knowledge to share. The perspective is usually inside-out (and by that I mean that the pieces are more interested in talking about what’s important to the brand than to the users). And if it’s a listicle piece offering tips and advice, that advice is seldom very useful.

2. The brand behind the native ads is interchangeable. There isn’t really any connection between the brand and the topic of the piece. Very likely the media outlet or an agency have come up with it and then sold it to the brand. The content in itself might be first-rate, but the connection to the brand isn’t there.

3. The purpose is only to get the user to leave the media platform and go to another site. Instead of creating value to the user on the platform that he or she has selected to spend time on they try to drive traffic to their own site. In my opinion one of the main purposes of native advertising is to show the users that there is relevant content to be found on the brand’s website, but you only do that once you’ve actually given them the story they’re looking for. Native is not a banner, just there for the purpose of getting click-throughs.

Just recently Joe McCambley wrote an interesting piece on weak native advertising on LinkedIn. It’s called There’s something missing from your native advertising, and you should really give it a read.

Creating value with native

My view on native advertising is that it should do the same job as everything else on a media platform, tell great stories and provide useful information to the visitors. It’s not just about blending in, using the lowest common denominator to make the content look like it belongs, but working just as hard as the rest of the content to make the visitor want to return. If a brand buys space on a media platform to share its stories, they do it because they consider that platform to have value. It’s not in the brands interest to weaken or undermine the position of that platform with inferior content.

The best kind of native advertising tells stories with substance, elevates real experts and always ensure that the content has an outside-in perspective. In my experience the content begins with a story about a real person or company, and then highlights parts of that story that can be useful to the target audience. The brand telling the story ads its expertise and know-how to show the user solutions and possibilities. The purpose is never to get the user to purchase something immediately or lure them to another site without delivering any value first.

At a time where many media outlets are going through rough transitions and fewer people are inclined to pay for news there isn’t that much room for creativity and trying out new ways of storytelling. But with native advertising brands and media outlets can combine on telling stories that probably would not have been told otherwise, and experimenting with new ways of doing it.

Combine with content marketing

We should approach native advertising with the same mindset as we do content marketing – really trying to understand the target audience, in order to create content that address their needs. I’m convinced that if you want to succeed with native advertising you have to work with content marketing as well, and let both disciplines draw from each others strength. Not in the least if one of our goals is to get the users interested enough to also want to visit our website, then we really need to have some great content there as well.

In the end, the question that brands, media outlets and content producers need to ask themselves is what role they want native advertising to play in their plans. Is it a shot-term solution, something to be used for a couple of years until the visitors to media platsforms learn to ignore these ads just as they have learnt to ignore banners? Or is it a serious opportunity to communicate with these visitors for a longer period of time, and all three parties takes a joint responsibility for maintaining value and relevance?

It’s entirely up to us that work with native advertsing to respond to that question. And I really hope that an overwhelming majority see it as a long-term commitment to quality.


What’s your take on the future of native advertising? Share your view in the comment section below.


Image credit: Japanexperterna.se (found on Flickr)