Think of a pair of axes, one showing relevance and the other transparency.

Where would various publishers’ content be plotted on this chart?

Part of the fascination with native advertising comes from the interplay of these two factors.

axes of relevance and transparency

Relevance is certainly the most important factor as far as readers are concerned. Relevance is a catch-all that includes consistency and quality.

Transparency is important for advertisers. In the case of sponsored content (often lumped in as native advertising), the advertiser must be visible to benefit from the association as the content doesn’t always refer to the advertiser or its products. Think Guardian Witness and EE.

Of course, where advertising agreements are in place, transparency is something that shouldn’t be compromised.

That’s the law, after all. But too often, the prominence of the click in the ranks of ‘success metric’ means that publishers may be tempted to disguise poor content to ensure clicks and advertiser satisfaction are achieved.

This is especially true for brand advertising, without attempt to analyse some form of conversion or acquisition rate.

It could be argued that the chart below shows where sponsored content, in-stream ads and advertorials sit in the landscape of transparency and relevance.

axes of relevance and transparency

In the chart below I posit that publishers have to make sure, at the very least, that they don’t end up in the area of reader disappointment.

This is where the wool is drawn over readers’ eyes, where adverts of poor relevance are not flagged up appropriately.

The reason is not simply an absolute threshold of transparency that a publisher must respect (i.e. a vertical line that content must sit to the right of), is because I’m willing to bet that the more relevant content is, the less of a stuff most readers give about its ambiguous intentions.

I realise there are many that may disagree with me on this point, however many people are willing to engage with owned brand content, which is essentially shilling products, so that’s the premise I’m starting from.

Again, I must state that relevance here is a catch all for reader interest level.

You can see that I’ve posited that readers will not be disappointed with incredibly transparent content that offers no relevance. Again, that’s debatable.

axes of relevance and transparency

Anything else to consider?

Of course. What about the reputation of a publisher? Whilst I said the reader doesn’t care about thresholds of transparency, the publisher certainly does. This is because if it misjudges a piece of content and its relevance is seen as questionable as well as its transparency, well that publisher stands to lose face.

So, on the chart below I’ve added a rather arbitrary line showing a level of transparency whose position varies by publisher. I’d expect this line to be further to the right for The Guardian than the Mail Online, for example.

This line may preclude advertorials and native ads for some publishers (and sponsored content, too, for some). This line’s purpose is to ensure that reader disappointment never arises.

axes of relevance and transparency

Well, this is just a sketch. Let me know what you think!

To hear more about native advertising, come to the Festival of Marketing in London, November 12-13th.