Native Advertising Thins the Line Between Advertising and Editorial Content

With native advertising becoming a more prominent strategy to sell online ads, a consumer’s ability to tell the difference between ads and editorial content is slowly diminishing. When publishers show a blatant disregard for their consumer’s interests by blending their ads to look like natural content, the publisher-consumer relationship is inherently damaged.

"With normal display ads, we would have had to build templates and go through a more structured internal creative review process for each piece," said Karen Lau, Manager of Digital Marketing at San Francisco Travel. "With native ads we just provided copy, image and a link, so we were able to bypass that review process and be more nimble and flexible."

There are multiple things wrong with that statement. First, Lau explicitly states that the ads are losing the “structured internal creative review process." Instead of San Francisco Travel using a review process to create a more structured and meaningful ad, they give the reigns to Google to disguise their ads as native content to get clicks.

The numbers:

  • The two-month campaign drove:

    • A 1,662% increase in hotel bookings: 16X their previous campaign.

    • A remarkable 92% drop in cost per acquisition.

It worked incredibly efficiently. How did they determine who to show these native ads to? By constantly tracking all consumers’ online habits, then viewing which consumers’ web history had searched for travel on certain upcoming holidays.

"For example, using Sojern's historical data on search and booking trends, we found that users who were searching for travel around the Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends had a strong propensity to book," said Jackie Lamping, Vice President of Marketing for Sojern.

San Francisco Travel said the consumers they tracked “had a strong propensity to book,” but that is not the point. The point is user’s personal web history is leveraged to sell them ads without them knowing it.

While San Francisco Travel is only one example and certainly does not speak for the entire native advertising environment, strategies like this hurt the creative process of building advertisements. And the continuous use of similar approaches will only erode the publisher-consumer relationship.