Tim Cain is a regular contributor to the Native Advertising Institute and Director of Digital First Media. We interviewed him at the 2016 Native Advertising DAYS where he was in charge of a session on the ethics of journalism and commercial content creation. Read more about this year’s amazing conference.
Below are highlights from the interview which have been slightly edited for clarity.
Commercial content can live in an editorial team
“Can commercial content live in an editorial team? I think the answer is yes it can. It depends on the extent to which the editorial team is going to be involved in it.
The editorial team of any media brand knows its readers, it knows its audience, it’s obviously a highly skilled professional group of people, so it’s got a lot to offer in terms of being able to help a commercial proposition based on the knowledge that it has. It can provide ideas and it can provide inspiration and maybe some creativity. I’m not sure it should be actually writing the content though.”
I’m not so sure that that’s a position that a journalist or a media brand wants to be in.
Why the editorial team shouldn’t produce native
“I think there’s a fine line isn’t there? It’s the church and state divide. A media brand builds its relationship with its audience based on trust; the trust of the writers, the trust that they are impartial, the trust that they know the subject incredibly well and they understand the audience and its needs.
If that then starts to be the force behind the commercial content, potentially it raises some issues of integrity. So can they maintain the same level of integrity if it’s actually trying to provide a positive review about a product or service? I’m not so sure that that’s a position really that a journalist wants to be in or that necessarily a media brand wants to be in, which is to risk any integrity to its ongoing product.”
How the editorial team and the commercial team can work together
“I think the two can work together. I think it’s all about what role does each part play. So ultimately if you want to create commercially driven content why not involve the experts in helping you do to that?
They understand the subject matter better than anyone and the audience better than anyone, therefore, have a chat, have a discussion about what is going to work? What could be a way to approach it? What kind of creativity or creative ideas can they come up with? Fuel the inspiration but don’t necessarily write the content from the editorial angle.”
The pitfalls of native advertising
“If you’re going to have an editorial team involved, you run the risk of damaging the integrity of the media brand if you cross the line between being impartial in terms of what you cover and then you write in a positive way about any particular brand — perhaps an advertising brand.
If you play fair with your audience and you label it they respect that.
So that would be a pitfall if it destroyed the audience’s trust in you as a legitimate source of media content that they love consuming. And the audience is quite bright, they know when they’re being sold to. There is an opportunity of course in the way in which you portray native content. It has to be labelled. It’s as simple as that.
If you play fair with your audience and you label it they respect that. It doesn’t mean they won’t read it, they will read it but they’ll read it knowing the angle it’s coming from. The problems come when there is no labelling. No labelling doesn’t help anyone. It certainly doesn’t help a brand who’s trying to get its message across, but more than anything else it confuses the audience and makes them question why they’re reading content that clearly isn’t part of the normal content for that brand.”
Native advertising shouldn’t have a sales message
“How should native advertising be and should it have any kind of sales message in it? The answer is no. It shouldn’t really have a sense message in it. It should be very subtle.
Trying to get a sale from a piece of native content directly isn’t a good idea.
A direct sales message simply implies that it is a form of advertising and if you’re trying to engage the audience in the way you normally would with ordinary content, then you don’t want to confuse them with that. I have previous experience of a major piece of research which actually found that the audience was very much turned off by any direct sales message.
So trying to get a sale from a piece of native content directly isn’t a good idea. Once you start talking about things like ‘50% discount’ or ‘buy for this price’ straight away it makes the audience see it as an advert and in fact, they feel like they’ve been conned because it wasn’t presented to them as an advert so it actually has a negative impact.”
The point is still to sell
“If the customer can’t sell what’s the point? The point is selling but it’s selling in a more subtle way; it’s building a relationship with the audience, it’s encouraging them to want to find out more about you and it’s directing them to where you can provide more direct sales messages; perhaps through your own website.
Ultimately everyone advertises to sell and it’s all about a sale somewhere. However, if you do this through the medium of native advertising, you’re going to run the risk of upsetting the reader. So be subtle and don’t make a direct sales message but create a demand and an interest and then follow that up elsewhere and that’s the way to succeed.”
How to make the audience understand native
“How do we make the audience understand what native advertising is? Very simple; we provide a label, we simply say that the content is ‘provided by’ or ‘sponsored by’ and we’re very clear about that.
We know that once they’re told it’s native advertising, they’re quite happy to consume it.
Then we’ve told the audience exactly what it is, they can make their mind up whether they want to engage with it. Of course, if it’s written and presented in the style tap into their interests and there is no evidence to suggest that they would find that offensive in any way. In actual fact, we know that once they’re told they’re quite happy to consume it and if it’s well presented and good content, then it will go down as well as the normal editorial content.”
Interview by: Pernille Uhd Kristiansen