by Michael O'Neill
April 29th, 2014

One big takeaway from the Publish Asia 2014 conference, held in Hong Kong this week and organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), is that native advertising has passed through the experimental stage and is now very much a commercial reality for publishers.

Native advertising has been one of the ad industry buzzwords of the past 12 months. Doubts, though, still persist around the sustainability of the new format, with many brands – and their agencies – still adopting a relatively conservative stance.

Speaking on the panel discussion ‘How high can native advertising rise’ at the Publish Asia event, representatives from the New York Times, the Economist and Next Media all argued the merits of native advertising, both as a revenue driver for publishers and as an effective marketing channel for brands. The panel outlined four key reasons why native advertising works.

1. Display is dying Publishers – on and off the record – spoke of the continuing decline of display advertising. One senior VP at a major newspaper group said that considering the low ROI of display, he was surprised that the industry had got away with it for so long. Native ads not only have the potential for greater ROI, they also offer a much more engaged connection with readers. Inez Albert, digital sales director, APAC, at the Economist Group, was clear: “What native advertising has done is take the old advertorial model and given it a big shake up… what we do now is create content that doesn’t necessarily talk about the brands, as this is not what connects with readers.

2. Mobile is driving change If display is not effective on PCs, for mobile it is practically redundant. Michelle Haase, regional advertising manager, Asia, at the New York Times, made the point that mobile has created the imperative for publishers and marketers to come up with new ad types. As mobile increasingly becomes the primary screen for many consumers – especially here in Asia – native advertising could be the answer to the challenge of integrating paid content into the mobile flow.

3. Editorial lines are blurring While all the panelists made it clear that editorial oversight of native advertising sits within a separate vertical from news editorial, and that native contributions are always clearly marked as such, publishers are nonetheless looking at how to utilise their content creation strengths. The New York Times, has joined the Wall Street Journal and others in launching its own content creation team. “[Native advertising] is an advertising product, but we have content creation capability, which can be leveraged for clients,” said Mo Chung, general manager, digital sales at Next Mobile.

4. Search is going native With search being a primary entrance point for content consumption, it is essential that native advertising receives the same search priority as regular content. Haase pointed out that paid native content produced for the New York Times is fully searchable and accessible, both within the publisher’s own internal search functions and on external search engines. Once again, though, Haase emphasized that search results for native ads are clearly marked as paid content.

For publishers then, native advertising is here to stay. Similarly, for brands and agencies, native advertising needs to become a much more serious consideration. Brands need to start thinking like publishers, creating relevant and timely content that will not only work within a paid native advertising model, but that will also gain greater earned coverage.

As one presenter at Publish Asia 2014 claimed, we are currently in a golden age of storytelling, Brands need to make sure they are telling the right kind of stories.

Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

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