Native Advertising: On a Path to Banner Blindness

iStock_000034449450SmallAn open letter from Neil Mody, CEO of nRelate

March 7, 2014

To Digital Publishers, Brands, Ad Tech Companies and Readers Everywhere,

Native advertising. It’s a trend that’s stirred up a whirlwind of confusion and controversy in the online media world. Even the legitimacy of the term has sparked sharp-tongued criticism with conclusions like, Why “native advertising” must die. Whatever you call it – sponsored, branded, advertorial – the vital trust of readers depends on how well we, as digital gatekeepers, disclose and promote paid content.

I’ve chatted in depth with publishers, journalists, industry analysts and consumers about where the “native ad” space has come from and where it’s going. And while I can’t speak for every native ad channel, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: our Discovery niche (content recommendation links that sit below articles), has taken a wrong turn down the path of monetization, echoed by barbed condemnations like, Those F%#&!ng Content Links!

Given we’re in the business of content distribution (some of it sponsored), this scenario is partially self-indicting, but I believe that we, and others in the space have an implicit responsibility to ‘regulate’ the digital adscape with tangible solutions that benefit publishers, readers and advertisers.

So, we decided it was time to take a formal stand. As a public call to action, and challenge to the entire digital publishing industry, we’ve launched a ‘Content Clean Up’ campaign to push this issue into the spotlight and initiate real change before readers become banner blinded to content recommendations altogether.

We kicked off the campaign by providing publishers in nRelate’s network with direct control over the type of recommended content units that appear alongside their editorial content. This was based on my belief that publishers, not advertisers, should decide what’s appropriate and relevant to their readers across different sites.

The simple fact is ‘one size fits all’ recommendations, like “10 Hottest Celebrity Girlfriends” don’t work for every reader, and moreover, have no place beneath everything from tech to politics, let alone a heavy news article. It’s unsurprising that more and more consumers a taking to social channels to voice their discontent at the tacky content being targeted at them.

Sure – the Internet will continue to revolutionize the business of content marketing and its controversial child, native advertising, BUT there remains a tremendous opportunity for paid or sponsored content to thrive in a relevant and appropriate manner, so long as it’s: transparent; contributes value to readers during their online journey; and is aligned with each site’s editorial vision.

With this in mind, we’re calling on publishers to take content control with us. ‘Watch this space’ for continued improvements to our platform; #contentcleanup tweets; blog posts; and a series of videos.

The time has come to clean up content recommendations and restore the Discovery space. Join us!


Neil Mody