We had the opportunity to meet Simone Krouwer at the Native Advertising Days in Berlin, the global conference for all players in Native Advertising, where she held an impressive speech focussing on the factors that contribute to an effective and sustainable implementation of native advertising on news websites. We are delighted that she afterwards agreed to give un an interview to share her knowledge and insights of the industry.
Could you please introduce yourself in a few words?
Sure, my name is Simone Krouwer and I am currently working as a PhD researcher at the University of Antwerp in Belgium. My research is mainly focused on native advertising on news websites: advertisements that take the form, feel and function of editorial news content.
So you are researcher at the Department of Communication Studies mainly in the field of “native advertising”. Could you tell us a bit more about what you’re working on right now?
Although native ads are currently widely implemented, there is still little knowledge about when, why and how native advertising works. My research seeks to help both media and advertisers to implement native advertising in a manner that is both effective and sustainable in the long run. That means that the effectiveness of native advertising cannot depend on deceiving readers by making them think that they are reading an actual news article. I am therefore investigating different factors that can positively influence readers’ evaluations of the native ads, advertisers and news websites, without deceiving readers into thinking that reading news. I do this mainly through online experiments on real news websites in Belgium and The Netherlands. I’m currently writing a paper on the influence of the type of advertiser and the influence of providing one-sided versus two-sided information in native advertisements.
What are in your opinion the advantages of native advertising?
There are several advantages of native advertising. For advertisers, native advertisements are a great way to get a larger audience for their stories. This is important, because the amount of content that is being published online has been growing exponentially over the past several years and it has become more challenging to get your content noticed. By publishing stories on a news website, you get directly a large public for your content, within a credible context. Native advertising is also a great format to share your expertise and build on the reputation of your brand, which is more difficult to do via traditional online ads such as banner ads and short commercials. Another benefit of native advertising is that native ads often surround ad-blocking technology (which automatically filters out all advertisements).
I’ve also conducted interviews with readers about native advertising. These interviews suggest two key benefits of native advertising to readers. First, native advertising can potentially provide readers more informational value compared to other online advertising formats. “Potentially”, because unfortunately some advertisers are still using the format to solely promote themselves in a ‘story’ that doesn’t provide the readers a lot of informational value. Second, the readers that I have interviewed considered native ads to be less intrusive than banners and video ads, and they liked the fact that they could decide themselves whether they would click on the title and read the native advertisement (i.e. high user control).
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How should a native advertising campaign be structured/look like to be the most effective and valued by its readers?
My research shows in general two factors that are key to success: transparency and relevance.
- First, it is important that the native advertisement contains a transparent label (e.g. “sponsored content from (advertiser X)”). Even though readers might initially be a bit more critical when they are aware that they are viewing an advertisement, my studies show that these critical feelings decrease when readers consider the native advertisement to be implemented in a transparent manner. This results into more positive evaluations of the native ad, advertiser and news website.
- Second, my research showed that the extent to which readers respond either more or less positively towards native advertising depends on the extent to which they perceive that the content is relevant and valuable to them, and the extent to which they perceive that the advertiser is the only one who benefits from the native ad. If readers feel that the advertiser only uses the native ad for its own benefit, readers feel manipulated, which subsequently results into more negative evaluations. On the other hand, when readers feel that they are benefitting from reading the ad (e.g. high informational value), they feel less manipulated, which results into more positive evaluations.
What do you think about sponsored articles / advertorials?
I think it can potentially be a great advertising technique, depending on the quality of its execution. It can be a win-win-win situation: advertisers get more eyeballs for their content, readers get advertisements with high informational value, and news websites generate additional revenue.
However, I am currently still a bit worried about the future of native advertising, because native ads are often still implemented in a way that is not transparent and not relevant to readers. This needs to be improved, in order to make sure readers don’t get a negative predisposition towards native ads.
What was for you the most surprisingly outcome of your studies in native advertising so far?
In some cases, readers consider a native ad to be just as trustworthy and valuable as a news article!
What would you recommend companies who want to launch their first campaign in native advertising?
Take the time to investigate readers’ informational needs, before you start creating. If you want to create a good native ad for a news website, you should think, write and act like a journalist would do. Don’t force a sales message into a good story. Native ads are better for top-funnel content that sparks readers’ interest in your organisation and expertise.
How will the branch transform and change in the next years and what will be new trends/ innovations?
News websites are now starting to offer new types of native advertising, such as sponsored content in podcast episodes, voice ads and native advertisements that make use of augmented reality. While this all sounds very innovative and exciting, the two basic principles for good native advertising will stay the same;
- Make sure you make content that is native to the editorial content of the news website, but still clearly mention / label that it’s content from you, the advertiser
- Make the advertisement as relevant as possible and try to fulfil readers’ informational and / or entertainment needs.
Could you give our readers 5-10 tips and tricks when it comes to their native advertising campaign?
Regarding transparency, our research suggests five important ways in which advertisers and news media publishers can increase the transparency of disclosures:
- Provide a disclosure upfront, before readers click to read the native advertisement
- Include the name of the advertiser in the disclosure
- Use distinctive visual characteristics that help readers to quickly notice and process the label, such as a logo from the advertiser, or a different color
- Provide information about the production process of native advertisements. If the native ads are created by a separate advertising department, explicitly state the separation between the editorial and advertising staff
- Explain the relationship between native advertising and the news outlet. (i.e.: explain that native advertisements support the news outlet)
Our research shows that the following factors may help to increase the relevance for readers:
- Mention your brand name sparingly in the text
- Provide balanced, two-sided information
- Increase readers’ involvement / the match between the reader and the information that you are providing:
- Position native ads nearby news articles on similar topics
- Target native ads to a specific reader audience
- Adapt native ads to ‘hot news topics’
Thank you Simone for taking the time and sharing this very interesting new insights with us.
Further informations and guides you will be able to find here