As a student of the BIC masters program of Branding and Integrated Communications, I got a chance to participate in today’s native ad conference at The CUNY Grad School of Journalism. The conference was named “Journalism in the Age of Branded Content…and Vice Versa.” and was part of a collaboration between BIC, a graduate program at City College of New York, and The J-school with the aim to get a sense around this new age of digital marketing phenomena. Nancy Tag, director of the BIC program, gave the keynote speech that kicked off a series of one-hour panels that focused on consumer attitudes, legal issues, and content development.



This afternoon we had a great panel of a variety of actors within the the native advertising field, and we got to hear opinions from all ends of the spectrum. The panel included Steve Barret from PR week, who represented the Public Relations side of the story, and Jordan Teicher from Contently, who gave us insights from their recent study on consumers perception of native ads.


The Legal side of the issue was covered by Jeff Jarvis from the Tow-Knight Center, John Graubert from Covington, and Deidre Sullivan from The New York Times. They gave us a great understanding of the do’s and don’ts you have to think about, both as a brand and as a publisher, when composing and publishing native advertising.


The key takeaways we got from the new FTA guidelines are of course that just as with any other advertising, it must be clear to the consumer that what he or she is engaging in is an ad. Does that mean that the ad can’t be organic or native? Absolutely not.


In the last part of the afternoon, a panel lead by Melanie Deziel and consisting of Alex Casner from the Elite Daily, John Fredette from IBM, and Fara Warner from WSJ Custom Studios, covered the publisher and brand point view on what makes for a good organic native content.


To address the legal part of native advertising practice, Warner stated:


I want people to know that our work comes from an advertiser. And – the advertiser doesn’t want to hide that they are there. It should be clear to the consumers that what they’re reading is an ad.”


What struck me the most out of their conversation was the importance of relevance between the brand and the publisher. They all agreed that it is important to choose a publisher that will communicate well with your audience and accurately represent your brand values, and that the publisher also has to consider how well the advertiser aligns with the authenticity of their brand.


Speaking from a brand’s point of view, John Fredette from IBM said that he thinks there’s a lot of pressure on the publisher to make sure advertising done correctly. He expects a push back from their end if they don’t feel like publication of branded content on their site is a good fit. It’s not just the advertiser choosing what publisher they seem to work well for them; the publisher has to speak on their behalf as well.


We want it to work organically and with transparency. You can’t force it from either side, it needs to be a partnership.” – Fredette


Melanie Deziel chipped in and said that often times the brand will come and expect the campaign to cover it all – shares, engagement, traffic to site and increased purchases in store – and that they don’t really have a realistic objective for what the advertisement should accomplish. “That’s when we have to push back and say that they need to establish a specific goal for their campaign so that we know how to best tailor the content to drive the most valuable KPIs. And, to figure out if we as a publisher are even the right fit to begin with.”


Alex Casner, Elite Daily, added that she finds it important to make sure the clients understand the difference between purely entertaining content and content that actually performs what the brand is asking for. Sometimes the brand will say that they want to publish a video, but after defining what the objective is for their given campaign, she will suggest that an editorial piece is a better idea. This to me proves that native advertising is operating in a direct collaboration between the journalistic and the branding part of the content creation, and that both ends need to work in partnership to create something that is organic and that will drive the best success.


The afternoon opened with the question everyone is thinking: Is native advertising something we want to see in our digital publications, or will consumers block them out just as they’re doing with banner ads? Are they too deceiving for consumers to ever accept?


Deziel stated some valuable facts:


When a brand is talking about something within their area of their expertise, 74 % of consumers trust it.”


In other word, do native, but do it in a way that speaks organically from your brand. If you’re a car company, don’t try to provide tips on how to best apply your make-up, even if your targeted audience happens to be young women who place great value on personal appearance. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense.


My own personal opinion is that it might take some time for people to adapt to this new form of advertising, but that the shift is already taking place. I think that just like with everything else that is new, people need some time to grow accustomed to it. For example, when online shopping first started to become a thing, people had a hard time believing that it would ever compare to making the purchase in store. How could you ever trust giving out your credit card information online, and why wait to have something delivered when you can buy it in store today? I think we both know the end to that story.


Native Advertising, though exploding to say the least, is still new. I believe that when both advertisers and publishers get a feel for how to correctly label their content, and once the consumer starts getting used to finding native content online, people will prefer it over regular digital advertising. We have been surrounded by advertising for a long time, and it has to say the least become a natural part of our lives. I believe that once consumers accept that native advertising is a thing, they will prefer the more organic way of consuming digital content over interruptive pop-up windows and intrusive banner ads.


But that is just my opinion. I guess we will have to wait and see.


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