The New York Times launched its paid post offering, their version of native ads, just over a year ago. As Contently reported, Times readers are spending roughly the same amount of time on advertiser-sponsored posts as they do on Times' news stories — and in some cases, even more. This spike in sponsored content engagement is a big win for marketers. So, what will the future hold for native ads? Here are three predictions on how paid posts will mature.
Paid Post Measurement Will Get Serious
One of the biggest complaints about paid posts was the lack of measurement. But this is changing. The conversation about results from native ads has shifted from revenue generation to engagement/brand awareness. Ad Age points out that the Online Publishers Association uses time spent reading paid posts as a "key barometer" to measure their effectiveness, along with web traffic, social media ranking and volume of comments. Digiday checked in with top publishers about their preferred measurement criteria, and surprisingly, click-through rates were not at the top of the list; instead, they were more concerned with whether readers of paid posts shared them across social media channels. As the medium matures, marketers and publishers will continue to refine the measurability of paid posts and find more ways to link revenue generation to engagement.
Storytelling Will Battle "Ad Fatigue"
Consumers live in a world where marketers are constantly vying for their attention, whether it's TV or radio spots, newspaper ads, display ads, banner ads, billboards or video pre-rolls. With their soft-sell approach and storytelling, paid posts are less intrusive, which may be why readers are spending so much time with them. Consider the listicles at BuzzFeed that consumers flock to, many of which are sponsored posts. AdExchanger points to a hugely successful paid-post campaign at BuzzFeed by Kmart, featuring Sofia Vergara, which was among the site's most successful paid content. Having a celebrity at the heart of the campaign certainly helped, but the key to the campaign's success was that the paid posts were consistent with the rest of BuzzFeed's nonsponsored content — the fun, highly engaging fare readers like to share with friends.
The Cream Will Rise to the Top
A key challenge for marketers is that the definition of a paid post still varies wildly. However, one theme is undisputed: it must align with the format and context of the medium on which it appears but also be clearly marked as sponsored content. Marketers who ignore this will not only waste their time and money on an unsuccessful campaign, but they will also undermine the value of native ads as a whole. As Forrester analyst Ryan Skinner states, "Readers who grow distrustful from poorly executed examples of native advertising across the web will be less and less likely to want to view even the best executions of native advertising, wherever they find them." In the future, marketers and publishers alike must police for native ads that don't follow this format and challenge themselves to do better.
As the success of the NY Times' paid posts illustrates, native ads are evolving and grabbing audience engagement. But in order for them to have staying power, marketers must focus on measurement and ROI, so this technique can gain credibility within the digital marketing mix.