Kunal Gupta is the CEO of Polar (formerly Polar Mobile), a computer software firm based in Toronto. Polar originally focused on mobile, but has rebranded to expand its mission, now specializing in native ads. He has been recognized as a Top 30 Under 30, a United Nations Global Citizen and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Look for his post on The Makegood the third Wednesday of each month.
It’s easy to make broad predictions about the world of digital publishing and native advertising. The players, be they bleeding edge technology platforms, or innovative publishers pushing their titles into new realms, move so fast that at it may be more of a challenge to point out what won’t happen in the next 12 months. That being said, here are my thoughts on some buzzed about topics that I ensure you will not come to fruition in 2014.
Programmatic native ads are no match
Programmatic buying and native advertising won’t be living happily ever after. The reason native ads are so exciting and gain so much social traction is their customized (and thus humanizing) nature. Publishers like Huffington Post and Quartz see such success with their native advertising efforts because of their dedication to custom, captivating content applicable to each campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, reservoirs of pre-written articles which barely qualify as native advertising will attempt to flood the market. My prediction is that programmatic buying and selling in the field of native advertising will fail, not that many won’t try.
As Jeff Jarvis pointed out recently, we are on the cusp of busting an economic myth that “all readers see all ads so we charge all advertisers for all readers.” The market is changing to address online audiences.
Native ads offer a way to speak directly to an intended audience, and pay exactly for that. Diluting the market with programmatic trading is an attempt to make a quick profit for ad networks. There may be a short term lining of pockets, but the dearth of quality will ensure it won’t last.
The lines do not blur between what is editorial and sponsored content
“Blurred lines” makes for a great sound bite, and maybe that’s why the phrase dominates every news article and search I do on the topic of late. Catchphrases aside, effective native advertising is not predicated on tricking readers. Can you think of a campaign receiving an accolades based on deception? I can’t either.
Every newsworthy or buzzed about successful campaign has been a result of relevant content. Even the most blatantly labeled sponsored story will succeed if its content is relevant and enthralling to the reader, and the opposite is true as well. As Rebecca Lieb points out, Gawker was lambasted for last year’s sponsored holiday gift guide with a connection to actual content so flimsy it barely makes sense. Readers notice bad sponsored content, and it reflects poorly on both the publication and the marketer or brand that paid for it.
Good content eliminates the need for blurred lines, and those who blur the lines learn of its futility quickly. Which leads us to…
FTC keeps its eye on native ads, but does not deem them unlawful
The concept of native advertising is not new, but the platforms and technologies serving it are developing so fast; the momentum makes it feel fresh and exciting, like nothing in digital advertising before it.
With anything moving at such speed, it is understandable for those involved (publishers, marketers, and readers) to question what standards are being developed or adhered to. It’s with the consistent vocalization of these questions that the FTC deemed it necessary to let the media world know they are keeping an eye on the platform.
Questioning the legality of native ads is sensational and makes for a great headline or tweet – the truth however is much more boring. The FTC will monitor this form of advertising and act as an advocate for consumers as it has for digital, television, radio and print in the past, and publishers will adhere to the social contract they’ve always shared with their audience. Those that do “blur the lines” so to speak will always be realized quickly, and suffer accordingly whether through sanctioned discipline, or declining readership.
On the other hand, this sudden scrutiny legitimizes native ads – the FTC doesn’t regularly host roundtables on flash-in-the-pan methods of advertising. Establishing standards and best practices is on the minds of the majority of publishers I speak to every day.
Native advertising is now a permanent piece of the marketing mix. My non-predictions dispel any of the negativity surrounding this exciting new platform, and show why it will only grow and strengthen in 2014.