The Golden Rules For Success In Native Advertising

So far we have established a number of vital facts around native.

We have a clear definition: “Native advertising is sponsored content, which is relevant to the consumer experience, is not interruptive and which looks and feels similar to its editorial environment”.

We have established that it has huge appeal to Generation N, the growing audience of young digital natives who love to engage with brands online and will take their media preferences with them as they grow older.

In other words, we have the what, the who and the why. Now it’s time for the how.

Changing priorities – for everyone.

Success in native requires a fundamental shift in mindsets across the industry. Our research clearly indicates the need for an ‘editorial-first’ approach, where the storytelling skills required are those of a journalist, not a copywriter. It’s a vastly different discipline to write compelling editorial, rather than body copy for print ads or the script for a 30-second TV spot.

The editorial skill set is vital for native advertising to be successful. Ask yourself, do you have it? Does your organisation have it? Journalistic skills currently reside predominantly with publishers, but the smartest media and creative agencies are already hunting for writers who can put their storytelling talents to use on behalf of their clients.

For their part, journalists need to wake up to the idea that native doesn’t represent ‘selling out’; in the Native Age, content is not considered any less impactful or compelling just because it’s associated with a brand.

Clients will also have to recognise that success in native advertising means recognising that their brand agenda won’t be the start point of the campaign.

Fernando Machado, Global Brand VP for Dove, says: “It’s about developing content that people choose to watch and share, not developing content that you simply broadcast to brainwash people or to persuade them to do something.”

For most marketeers, this represents a fundamentally new approach, a change that many may find hard to make. Those that do seem sure to be rewarded.

The 5 Golden Rules

With the unique insights from our research, we can now create a blueprint for the best native advertising. Experts and consumers were in complete agreement on the key success factors for native – so here they are.

1. Tell a great story

At the heart of native advertising is fantastic content that people want to read, to share, to comment on and interact with. This is why editorial skills are so important; journalists know what makes a great story, and they know how to tell it in the most compelling way possible. High quality content leads to engagement, which leads naturally to shareability and scale. Phil Reay-Smith, Head of Media at Ogilvy PR, says: “Where the magic can happen is for it to be interesting. And so if a consumer sees a sponsored post and actually just wants to read it for the sake of reading it because it's interesting, that's when you actually get more engagement than you ever would with a banner advert or any form of interruptive advertising. This is advertising that draws you in.”

2. Be entertaining – Generation N is crying out for entertainment

Being entertaining demands creativity, and our experts agreed. In our expert survey*, we asked respondents for their top three best practices for successful native advertising. Top answers were:

• 43% - be creative

• 29% - be innovative

• 26% - be authentic to the tone and values of the brand (don’t pretend to be something you’re not)

• 23% - tell a great story

• 23% - be authentic to the tone and values of the media owner (be relevant to the editorial environment)

3. Align with consumers’ interests – tap into their passion points

The audience must be able to relate to this content, so it has to be relevant and resonate. As we’ve said, authenticity is vital here; the brand must find a topic that’s not only of interest to the reader, but genuinely relevant to the brand as well. Generation N consumers can spot a phoney a mile off – remember, they’re experts in content consumption.

4. Be relevant to their current online activity – don’t interrupt

Another vital rule to follow is the need to have a ‘human’ feel, and to sit naturally alongside the editorial. The worst crime possible in native is that you interrupt the user – 75% of respondents to our consumer survey told us that they felt online advertising should be less forced.

Paul Wilson, Managing Partner at media agency SMV, says: “If you are distracting somebody or you’re encouraging them to click on something to go to another place, then you’re not delivering on that promise, and that’s frustrating.”

Get this wrong and it’s not only the brand that suffers; the publisher loses credibility and ultimately their audience could choose go somewhere else. The editorial environment is a crucial part of the native approach, which means brands must choose partners carefully and be respectful to the user experience.

5. Signpost - don’t try to fool anybody

Native advertising must be clearly signposted so that users know that the content is funded by a brand. There is a need for transparency in order for audiences to become fully engaged with native advertising; there’s no point trying to hide it. Consumers are smarter than that.

When asked to identify their main concerns around native advertising, our experts highlighted “lack of relevance to the audience” (49%), “poor execution” (49%) and “breaking consumer trust” (40%).

So who ‘owns’ native? No-one. And everyone

These rules make complete sense on paper, but we recognise that they represent a huge shift in both mindsets and working practises. We believe that what native brings to the fore (in addition to all of the above), is one key word: Collaboration.

The standard ways of working make no sense when trying to be successful in native advertising. To have publishers and their journalistic expertise at the end of the creative process makes no sense. For publishers to build walls around their audiences and not let brands interact with them directly? That makes no sense either. For media agencies to continue to judge the effectiveness of native campaigns using old-world advertising metrics? You guessed it.

Media owners

Native represents a fantastic opportunity to increase revenues and leverage the journalistic skillsets on which their businesses are based. Instead of being treated as a hidden cost, buried in production budgets, editorial expertise becomes the fundamental thing that’s being sold.

With that in mind, media owners must be brave and choose partners wisely. Native advertising content will carry the trust and reputation of their media brand with it. Sponsorship must be flagged clearly, integrity must be maintained and the brand content must genuinely fit with their environment.

Media / Creative / Content agencies

Most agencies must now admit they don’t have the skillsets in-house to produce great native advertising on their own. Some are now incorporating journalistic roles into their structures, but even so, the need to collaborate with experienced publishing partners is clear.

But agencies now have the opportunity to rewrite the rules of engagement when it comes to relationships with media owners and their clients. New ways of working, new approaches to engaging with consumers, new revenue streams, new ways to measure campaign performance - they’re all waiting to be established.


Brand owners need to be persuaded of the benefits of native advertising and how to make a solid business case for it. They have to be prepared to take risks, experiment, and in most cases, relinquish a little control. Whilst it’s vital to ensure relevance to their brand, the temptation is to keep a tight grip on the commercial message, which in native advertising can ultimately hamper creativity and become a barrier to consumer engagement.

We’re only just at the beginning of this process, so it will be the bolder companies that move first, learn faster and adapt quicker who’ll benefit the most. Don’t be the one who gets left behind.

* Survey of 65 senior marketing, media and advertising professionals, conducted by Walk A Mile / Kaper UK in July 2013