Tim Cain: The price tag on native advertising

Native advertising is the thing right now. But what should it cost? One of the Native Advertising Institute's voices is trying to put a price tag on native.
Tim Cain portrait

The big question here for marketers of brands is: what are you actually buying? Is it just inventory, as if you were placing a display ad, or is it the expertise of content creation – let’s call it the intellectual property – as well as the creative execution and also the valuable, but unquantifiable, endorsement of the media brand and its unique relationship with an audience….as well as the inventory, of course?

If a media owner is taking already created content from an agency or brand then it’s inventory, but there should be a premium for the value of context at least; that unique endorsement of the media brand and its loyal audience. Without that premium it’s just another piece of advertising and really doesn’t reflect the value from an editorial style execution, which differentiates it from display advertising. Of course, if it is externally created content, one can argue that it’s not true native advertising anyway, but branded content. True native is written by the media brand content experts to reflect the style of delivery with which audience has built a relationship with.

When publishers invest in content creation specialist teams, as many especially amongst the leading news groups have – such as New York Times and Wall Street Journal in the US and in the UK, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Mirror – a marketer of an advertising brand can expect sophistication, a premium product. Publishers need to charge production costs to reflect the quality they deliver, the brand safe environment and value of the audience.

Some publishers like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, just charge for the media and include the cost of the content in the fee, using native advertising as a new value-add. The HuffPost is often re-purposing existing editorial articles to extend brands’ native ad campaigns and The Daily Mail uses its existing editorial staff to create the content, allowing them to limit expenses.

You get what you pay for

Arguably, you can apply the old maxim; you get what you pay for. There are ways to cut corners, extract value from existing material, and re-purpose it. Certainly, there is an economy and efficiency that shouldn’t be forgotten and why wouldn’t an advertising brand want to wring as much value as they can out of an existing resource?

But it’s not the same as what can be achieved by the creation of bespoke content aimed at an audience that has a deep relationship with that media brand and see what they read as relating to themselves personally and in keeping with what they want from the time spent with that media.

An ANA survey suggested that only 19% of marketers say that native warrants premium pricing. Perhaps this is because there is no predominant metric for measuring it, so gauging its success can be difficult. However that’s an educational challenge for publishers to rise to, proving their audience understanding and brand value and setting the rules of engagement with agencies and advertising brands. After all, you wouldn’t normally expect to buy designer fashion at chain store prices, would you!?

The question for the media industry is: do disrupters devalue native advertising and potentially mislead marketers? By offering native as a value-add they’re making a very attractive proposition, but that expectation can reduce the focus on creativity and the uniqueness of reader engagement with unique content. Value can be stifled for both the media brand and the advertising brand if engagement doesn’t work as it should.

It’s a competitive world and one pricing model for all is not realistic, but ” good” native advertising has to offer more value and, therefore, be worth paying more for than a standard display ad, doesn’t it?

Presentation: Tim Cain is the Managing Director of the UK Association of Online Publishers (AOP). Tim is responsible for Tim Cainstrategy, direction and operational management. AOP delivers a program of events, research and targeted initiatives to the online publishing industry. Tim has been at AOP for six years and has extensive publishing experience gained over 15 years at EMAP and Bauer Consumer Media, respectively.

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