What Happens When the Native Ad and Content Aren’t Aligned? (Hint: Your Customer Won’t Be Stoked)

June 3, 2016 | by Cassidy "Cattie" Yost

Sometimes a native ad can fall flat. It might be that it doesn’t fit into the surrounding page content, and comes across as contrived. Or, it could be published alongside content that consumers consider inappropriate or off-limits, such as news content that is expected to remain neutral. 

Sometimes though, a native ad is published in the right place, surrounded by relevant content, but when a consumer clicks through, they are still left disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed. And when that happens, the ad risks getting lumped together with traditional internet advertising as nothing more than aggravating spam. This often happens when the native ad and the destination page content don’t align. 


The consumer clicked the ad because something about it (the title, image, description, or another creative element) appeared to promise something of value, but the  content following didn’t live up to their expectations. Maybe they anticipated an interesting, relevant article or blog post, but instead were directed to a dry, poorly disguised ad. Or maybe the labelling on the ad was vague or easy to miss, and they didn’t realize until they were halfway through the article that they were reading promoted material. At this point the consumer feels tricked, lied to, and irritated. And when that happens, they are experiencing the same disruption that is associated with conventional display ads.   



Fortunately, publishers and advertisers can avoid causing this kind of distress by following a few simple guidelines:

Be transparent.

Not only is it ethically necessary to clearly label native ads, but consumers prefer it as well. If consumers don’t recognize a native ad for what it is from the start, they may end up feeling that they were duped into reading the destination page content. So, even if the content technically does align with what was promised by the native ad, consumers will perceive an inconsistency (“I didn’t think that '10 Things Only Spelunkers Will Understand' was just an ad for headlamps!”), and they'll feel lied to. Their experience will have been interrupted by suddenly realizing that they are viewing an advertisement.  However, consumers are more likely to accept paid content if they know up front that it has been paid for, and therefore might be influenced by a brand. When an ad is visibly labelled, it builds consumer trust in the brand and the publisher. Basically, consumers want to feel that they are part of a well-informed conversation when they are getting their information, and that they haven’t been deceived.

Don’t sell too hard.

No matter what content the consumer expected, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they didn’t intend to click through to a traditional sales letter. Content that is too obviously selling something will stand out like a sore thumb from the material that the native ad was published alongside, and will no longer seem relevant to the consumer. The goal shouldn’t be to make an immediate sale, but rather, to build brand trust and awareness--and to provide a pleasant experience--during the customer decision journey. The best way to achieve this is through content that is mutually beneficial to the brand and the consumer. Material that is genuinely engaging to the consumer, that is ultimately related back to the brand, will serve both parties well.

Provide content that lives up to the headline.

The last thing the consumer wants is to find themselves reading dry, uninteresting content when they were anticipating an engaging article, a helpful how-to, or an entertaining listicle. But content that makes good on a headline’s promise is a recipe for success. Take, for example, Sauza tequila-sponsored Buzzfeed headline “12 Holiday Treats to Spike with Tequila,” which was paired with an image of cranberry sauce and the description “Ho ho ho! Try a tasty tequila dessert this season, and pair it with a Sauza Sparkling Margarita to wash it all down. Your friends will thank you later.” The ad ran alongside other trending Buzzfeed pieces, and directed to list of tequila-infused recipes.  When asked about their reactions to the article, consumers generally felt very positively, and many respondents said they found that the article contained useful tips. The content delivered exactly what was promised by the native ad; a fun, interesting way to make use of the product being advertised. The most effective native ads prioritize what is most important to their target audience, and makes sure to deliver on the content that is promised by the native ad (or risk incurring the wrath of the ad-saturated consumer).       


By following these guidelines, brands can avoid causing consumers the same aggravation that has led traditional display ads to be universally despised. With quality content that aligns with with the native ad, a consumer that clicks through will not feel disappointed or mislead by the branded material that they land on.                        

Whether the ad promises an in-depth editorial, or a lighter piece, what matters most is that content is of value to the consumer. So what content do consumers value? We’ll cover that next, with “What Type of Content is Appropriate for a Native Advertising Strategy?”



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Topics: Customer Experience, Native Advertising, Content Strategy, Content Marketing