Blog: When will brands learn to demand quality? by Hugo McCafferty


Our guest blogger this week is Hugo McCafferty, Native Editor at Independent News & Media. Hugo’s piece focuses on the quality of native content and ensuring it cuts the mustard! 

It seems some brands just don’t care about the quality of the native content they are splashing out on at the moment because all around me I see content that just doesn’t cut the mustard.
There is a malaise in branded content that has been growing over the past 24 months, brands okaying their investment in branded content that is far from the standard that they would accept across any other medium. It goes against the whole point of native advertising, which is to create an engaging experience for the reader and thereby build brand empathy. It’s a very rare thing today to have a reader’s complete attention for 2-3 minutes, so the opportunity should not be wasted.
Quality and transparency in reporting should always be key for native content. It is not enough to just accept the views being reported from publishers on a native article. Let’s face it, those views can be fabricated or bought on social channels or content recommendation engines. To ensure the ongoing relevancy of top-tier digital publishers, we have to continuously strive to create a higher level of quality in our branded content. Otherwise, as an industry, we are undermining the powerful potential of native.
Native advertising shouldn’t ever be just an add-on to a wider digital campaign. If it is thought of in that way, it would be better not to include it. It should be the cornerstone of a digital campaign, this is where the higher brand uplift element of the campaign takes place, with complementing display elements to drive conversions lower down the funnel.
If anything, sub-par native damages a brand. If we are selling a sponsored Facebook Live broadcast, then that broadcast has to be able to rival television quality. We need professional presenters, we need high production values, we need the best equipment – we need TV expertise. While it might look good on a report that a Facebook Live element got X amount of views or likes, that doesn’t say anything about the quality of the content or the effect on the perception of the brand. It is crazy that brand managers, who are so concerned with quality in every other media and so staunch in their defence of their brand, accept this consistently from digital publishers.
By just creating content that can deliver views, whether organic or paid for, that can then be ticked off on a list client-side, we risk killing the golden goose. Maybe we have come to believe our own hype about native – 63% of mobile display ads will be in the native ad format by 2020… Digital audiences turned their backs on display ads very quickly and the same could happen for native overnight. If that did happen, then those figures would be drastically revised down.



Programmatic has the potential to further undermine the quality of the native product, as publishers look for higher fill rates on their native real estate. One has to wonder where, if anywhere, the reader/audience interests in this are being served. Established, heritage media publishers have a responsibility to their already loyal audience, the first relationship with this audience is forged through the editorial quality on offer and any branded content on offer should only build from that benchmark. Publishers should continue to strive to provide a service that is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy, working hard to out-perform the plethora of new digital publishers that are willing to do anything to attract new business and capture new audiences, regardless of quality and transparency in reporting results.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The brands that ‘get’ native, and who are willing to trust their media partners to execute inspiring native content, see the real value in it and will continue to invest in it. Investment in, and the delivery of, higher quality is the key to ensuring the future of branded content, both for our brand partners and our audiences.