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For Sponsored Content to Grow, Advertisers Need to Act Like Responsible Publishers

As business booms for newspapers, advertisers have flooded the market with subpar content. There’s work to do before native advertising can become the viable future revenue stream it promises to be.

Sponsored content is big business, even as companies figure out how to do it well.
A basic Google search for “sponsored content” shows just how prevalent the practice has become, a good thing for publishers today, but not necessarily a healthy barometer of success for the future of advertising.
Advertisers increasingly fall short, in part because they’re trying to turn niche or unpopular ideas into stories for a broad audience. The result is an oversaturation of subpar editorial, which unintentionally makes it more difficult for impactful content to get noticed. That’s because all native advertising, a subcategory of sponsored content, gets lumped together and branded with general “sponsored content” even when those pieces are not all equal.
To level the playing field, advertisers must demand better quality and act like responsible publishers. This means understanding the value of relevant, timely, creative, and well-sourced articles. These attributes should be intrinsically more important to advertisers than publishers, however ironic that might seem. Today that’s not happening. Take a look:
Here’s a builder’s sponsored article in Erie Pennsylvania’s largest newspaper musing about new home starts, and how stricter building codes and energy efficiency standards foreshadow an advantageous environment for people to build a dream house there. Don’t forget the maintenance-free vinyl siding!
In the Journal of Commerce, Pro-Tem Solutions, a company specializing in temporary floor protection, penned a sponsored article. It connects an un-vetted report from an insurance company in Switzerland about how water damage is the leading cause of financial loses during construction to its proprietary temporary floor solutions.
While the above examples are not the strongest forms of native advertising, it’s hard to deny the practice’s importance to newspapers long clamoring for new revenue streams since the demise of print. By 2021, native display ad revenue in the US will make up 74 percent of total US display ad revenue, up from a 56 percent share in 2016, according to new BI Intelligence estimates.
Other encouraging signs for newspapers include a recent study by DigitalRelevance showing 25 percent more consumers looked at sponsored articles than display ad units, and native ads have been found to produce 18 percent higher lift in purchase intent and 9 percent higher lift for brand affinity than banner ads. Modest but encouraging gains, likely shepherded by stronger native content. When done right, native advertising can be impactful.
Take Casey Family Programs, a foundation committed to reducing the number of children who need foster care. It recently published an article in Politico about its cause. The piece was well-reported, topical for Politico, and timely, as its narrative was tied to recent federal legislation. It also provided clear and actionable steps for the public to help further the cause.
Still to be fair, the Casey piece will likely garner less attention than it might otherwise because of the oversaturated market. And data tells us readers will spend less time with a sponsored story then a publisher’s un-branded editorial work, a statistic that won’t change without a more responsible approach from the advertisers footing the bills.

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