The From Line
Written for Publishing Executive by Elie Ashery, Gold Lasso CEO
Melody Kramer’s recent piece, “When newsrooms don’t own their data, other companies profit” on Poynter should be a hard and fast wake-up call for publishers. Kramer, a former digital strategist at NPR and former visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, offers several insights from publishers about how newsrooms collect then give away data programmatically without fair compensation. Most of the examples she provides are related to behavioral data, however “data fleecing” publishers stretches way beyond link tracking and location check-ins.
When I was in high school in the early 90’s I was tasked with selling advertising for the school newspaper. With little understanding of what media and printing was all about, I was told our school newspaper sold ads by the column inch. But the column inch wasn’t a real inch. It was 11 picas or roughly 1.83 inches. This confused me as I didn’t understand how I was going to convince an advertiser to place an ad in a measurement that really wasn’t what it was. I soon figured out that the column inch was standardized across all newspapers and it wasn’t unique to my particular school. After I mastered the column inch learning curve, needless to say I was much more successful at selling newspaper ads than trying to explain what it is.
About This Infographic:
Despite the fact that publishers and advertisers can agree on what native advertising is in its legacy print format, there’s still much confusion in the industry when native advertising transcends the digital space. Gold Lasso believes the reason for this confusion stems from the sheer number of variables that can be manipulated in a digital ad. To help publishers and advertisers wrap their heads around what defines a native ad, we developed this simple scale that takes into consideration both publisher and advertiser standards and characteristics. The scale demonstrates that native ads are defined by the degree that advertisers relinquish creative and formatting control to the publisher. Are some ads more native than others? We think so.
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Via Gold Lasso, Subscriber Engagement & Monetization Systems
As the definition of native advertising continues to take form, one thing that remains constant is that native advertising’s success is relegated to publisher standards of quality and experience. Even as advertisers arm themselves with advanced analytics and programmatic buying, the continuous shrinking of display’s performance reveals in some aspects, a negative correlation between advertiser standards and the dwindling engagement they produce. The digital success of native advertising is proof that advertisers must trust that publishers know their audience better than they do when they are in the publisher’s forum. It’s true that advertisers have more of a holistic view of their customer by their ability to collect and analyze data across different channels and sources. However, the publisher is the ringmaster at a particular moment in time with its direct finger on the customer’s pulse. After all, consumers go to publishers to consume content, not ads, right?
Native Advertising Is A Culture
Even as certain aspects of native advertising become programmatic, we should be hopeful that publisher formatting characteristics, the ones that lend themselves to a quality experience, continue to remain in the publisher's control. At the same time, publishers must realize that native advertising is a culture, not a format. It’s a culture that tells an advertiser’s story using the publisher’s core competencies in a way that will resonate best with the publisher’s audience. Therefore, native advertising is the cooperation of a publisher’s editorial, advertising and production departments to create the best possible experience for their consumers. Gone are the days of the siloed church and state mantra between advertising and journalism. Millennials are quite aware that journalistic integrity has been compromised by scandals and editorial bias and they are at peace with advertising’s role – as long as it doesn’t interfere with their experience of content consumption.
Consumer's Insatiable Demand For Experience
The publishers that move with this cultural shift in content consumption could reap unprecedented margins as the market could produce a winner take all phenomenon in their respective media niches. The technologies that once fragmented media could eventually consolidate it as Millennials chase the best possible experience. Those publishers who embrace this shift by perfecting the experiences they create could eventually attract the majority of audience for their niche. Native advertising is a necessary part of that experience. It melds together the objectives of the advertiser with the creativity of the publisher in such a way that advertising is noticeable, entertaining, but most important, easily digested.
How Will Native Advertising Scale?
As the industry wobbles down the native advertising path, the biggest challenge for both publishers and advertisers alike is scale. Publishers are starting to play a pivotal role in helping advertisers produce content that appeals to their audience, but scaling production across hundreds of advertisers is a difficult task. Additionally, as advertisers relinquish their grip on creativity, scaling their audience reach in native formats have been proven futile. Programmatic technologies and industry standards will help both publishers and advertisers to achieve native scale, but only to a point. Native display, sponsored content and other formatting initiatives that contain native elements definitely facilitate scale, however true native advertising is an experience that only the publisher can provide. Culture and creativity are the epicenter of native advertising, characteristics that cannot reside with the advertiser.
I'm a news junkie! I admit it! I can't get enough news and analysis on Middle East conflicts, stock market trends, sports picks, and celebrity gossip. I almost always have two news channels running simultaneously in my house and at my desk at work. To continually feed my habit every waking hour, I subscribe to no fewer than 137 daily email newsletters, from big-name publishers to small niche bloggers, and I scan almost all of them on my four-inch iPhone 5s screen.
In general, my daily email newsletter habit saves me a lot of time. It's quicker than jumping from app-to-app or site-to-site to satisfy my fix. However, at times I get frustrated and stumble from the routine of using my right thumb to scroll down and click.
This frustration usually happens when I encounter a mobile-unfriendly newsletter, forcing my left index finger and thumb to start pinching and stretching across my iPhone's screen. My eyes dilate to discern the extra small fonts, while my genetically oversized thumb has to switch from a vertical to a horizontal scroll.
After I get a taste of the initial snippet of an interesting story, my desire to indulge in the rest takes over my brain. I use my thumb to forcefully scroll right, then left, frantically searching for the "read more" link or button, finally seeing the little blue words seducing me into action. As I take a deep breath to lift my thumb, I subconsciously notice the edge of a social media sharing image positioned nanometers from my objective. My thumb hits the screen, and a cold feeling immediately overcomes me with the thought that I missed. Sure enough, my Facebook app opens, with a prompt to share the story I that I'd just wanted to finish reading. "Crap!" I say. After repeating this narrative between 50 and 60 times daily, I've started being more selective with the publishers I interact with.
The phenomenon of online media not accommodating mobile email is not isolated to a small percentage of the industry, nor to a segment of its respective demographics. It's a systemic issue that's a disservice to publishers' subscribers and brand. In an era of fragmented audiences and shortened attention spans, publishers can't afford to marginalize the power of mobile email by ignoring responsive design. More importantly, publishers' lackadaisical interest in mobile email is counterproductive to their cries of low CPM rates and quality traffic.
When I ask publishers why they don't embrace responsive design, their answers range from technical ignorance to outdated design ideology. Whichever their answers, most fit in the confines of a flimsy excuse and are akin to shooting one's self in the foot, purposely!
Fortunately, adopting responsive design is easy, and can be fully integrated into a publisher's repertoire of daily email. The publishers who do eventually make the responsive design jump notice a substantial increase in engagement and monetization. It's not unheard of for open rates to increase by 20% or 30%, and CPMs to reach up to $8 or more for standard display ads alone. Given these tangible benefits, it's baffling why publishers aren't there yet.
The economics of a widely used, open platform like email are such that when there's an issue with functionality, the market rushes in to correct it. Uniform rendering across disparate email clients is a byproduct of trying to fix broken HTML. Publishers should expect similar efforts from developers trying to dictate subscriber experience to their email clients.