Native advertising is a highly effective tactic that gives an ad the same tone and appearance as other content within a publication. You've probably seen native ads in the form of a sponsored article written to emulate editorial content or a display ad nestled among recommended content at the end of a blog post.
But while native ads give small businesses a huge opportunity to promote their products or services (while earning potentially massive brand recognition), failing to follow native advertising rules can land your brand in hot water — both with your customers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Despite the risk, a whopping 37 percent of publishers are not native-compliant, according to MediaRadar. To meet your marketing goals without incurring hefty fines or losing customer trust, here are three things you should always do:
1. Provide Real Value — Not a Sales Pitch
The goal of native advertising is to engage your audience in a place where they're already browsing and naturally consuming content. A brand-first approach with an aggressive call to action is an unwelcome disruption to their experience.
Instead, make sure your native ads offer your audience helpful, informative or entertaining content that's not unlike the content they've already sought out. Including a CTA is expected, but always give something to your audience before you ask something of them.
2. Keep Your Target Audience in Mind
When choosing a platform for your native ads, make sure it's a publisher that already caters to your audience personas. For example, if you owned a snow tire company, you wouldn't publish sponsored content about winterizing your car in, say, Arizona. Make sure the content and platform are both relevant to your ideal customer.
On the other hand, just because a publisher caters to a wider audience than your target persona doesn't mean you have to go outside your wheelhouse. While this might drive more traffic, there's no benefit to bringing in leads that will never convert.
3. Make Sure Your Ad Is Labeled
One of the most important native advertising rules is making clear to customers your content is in fact an ad (through an explicit label or an unambiguous disclosure). Attempting to trick your audience into thinking your ad is organic content is not only against FTC guidelines, it's also a bad business practice that could cost you your credibility. And once that's lost, it's really hard to earn it back.
For more on how to correctly label your content and what to include in a disclosure, check out the FTC native advertising guide.
Great marketers know that some rules are meant to be broken, and certain risks are necessary for lasting success. However, when it comes to native advertising rules, you should definitely stay within the guidelines — both to drive greater ROI and to protect your brand's reputation.