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Is mobile native advertising over-hyped?

While mobile native advertising is growing quickly, there are some potential pitfalls for marketers if they do not take the proper steps to ensure users understand when the content they are engaging with is sponsored.

In response to the quick expansion of native ads, Google executive Matt Cutts recently expressed concern in a YouTube video that some marketers are not adequately disclosing that content has been sponsored by a brand. The issue for Google is that if the sponsored content is not properly optimized, it can contribute to a Web pages search ranking.

?Traditional desktop advertising often tried to best, compete or draw attention away from the core content, but with the clear positioning that it was from an advertiser,? said David Hewitt, Atlanta-based vice president and global mobile practice lead for SapientNitro.

?Now we have advertisers that are interested in being a more integrated component of the primary content which can increase engagement, but also blur the lines between who is the content provider and who is the advertiser,? he said.

?In the native advertising model, once the ad is clicked/touched on, the publisher loses control of what content the consumer is presented with, but in essence needs to consider more accountability in referring the consumer to that destination.?

Better user experiences
Marketers are looking for ways to create stronger user experiences in mobile that go beyond the standard banner ad ? which can be easily overlooked on a small mobile screen ? as well as interstitials and other formats that take users away from the content they are interested in.

This is one of the reasons why native ads are on the upswing in mobile, because the ads are placed seamlessly within the flow of content.

Given the perceived potential for native advertising to provide a better user experience, it has been growing very quickly over the past few months.

Publishers are embracing native advertising because it appeals to brands and can be an important tool for monetizing their mobile strategy.

Facebook?s Sponsored Stories are a good example of native advertising, but others are also quickly jumping on board.

Hearst recently introduced a native advertising program that will run across digital platforms, including mobile. It entails several new ad units, including one that displays contextual content from an advertiser within a specific developing story.

The New York Time is also embracing native mobile advertising.

The publisher recently launched a new mobile guide app The Scoop, which includes sponsored content from Citi Bike, New York City?s new bike share program. The Citi Bike content includes a map showing Citi Bike stations and Scoop picks throughout the city (see story).

"The mobile landscape today has some native ad products that are driving dramatic market growth, like Facebook and Twitter?s ad units integrated into their core user experiences," said Clark Fredricksen, vice president of communications at eMarketer, New York. "These ads make a great deal of sense for marketers, as they?re relatively uniform and effective across platforms and devices.

"The small mobile screen size makes it imperative for marketers and publishers to develop ads that fit within the core user experience or content of a page, natively or otherwise," he said. "Some types of native custom executions (e.g. sponsored pages on Buzzfeed) may not yet ready for mainstream adoption, especially on mobile, because of high development costs.

"Ultimately we?re more likely to see large industry-wide increases in the native plays that can scale like native ads in Facebook newsfeed rather than mass adoption of one-off, customized native executions like those in Buzzfeed."

Lines blur
The key here for advertisers is that the content is placed inline so it is a part of the overall experience for users.

The danger is that inline advertising content can easily be mistaken for editorial content.

Editorial and branded content have been becoming more blended for some time, with native ads labeled by some as simply another type of the advertorial.

Some publishers have expressed concern that sponsored content may be confusing to readers, who may not know where the content is coming from as some ads do not clearly state that they are sponsored content.

If not handled correctly with the proper disclosures, native advertising can reflect negatively on both a publisher and the brand.

?Being clear it is an advertisement is the number one priority in keeping the integrity for both the publisher and the advertiser,? Mr. Hewitt said. ?Also, if the ads become too obtrusive consumers will simply leave and may not even come back to the originating experience.

?At the end of the day it is up to an increasingly savvy consumer whether that partnership builds content scale and credibility or deflates it.?

Quality content
Much of the discussion around native advertising is focused on placement.

However, marketers also need to be sure they are not overlooking the quality of the content.

?I'm a big believer in the power of native advertising and content marketing to create better mobile advertising experiences,? said Tom Foran, general manager of North America for Outbrain, New York. ?In fact, I think mobile is the most fitting medium for native advertising as the smaller screen and mobile environment makes it easy for users to be turned off by banners and pre-rolls.

?However, I believe content is the real movement empowering brands to engage with consumers on their own terms,? he said. ?Regardless of the mobile amplification tactic you choose, it is the interesting, trustworthy content that is going to create the positive, engaging mobile experience users want.?

Marketers recognize that as ads that feel more like narratives, this can help drive intimate engagements.

However, brands run the risk of losing consumers? trust if they improperly take advantage of the access they have.

"The key to a well-crafted mobile strategy is creating an authentic conversation between the brand and the consumer,? said David Wachs, senior vice president of mobile at ePrize, Pleasant Ridge, MI.

?Whether you're leveraging branded social media sites, email campaigns or SMS promotions, you want the consumer to interact with your brand,? he said. ?But that interaction cannot be facilitated without brand trust, which is where the pitfalls of native advertising come in.

?If native advertising does not include quality content and appropriate placement, your customers may feel deceived and inundated with irrelevant ads.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York