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MEDIA VOICES: Hearst’s Native Ad Approach Starts with Clear Branding



Todd Haskell
Senior Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer
Hearst Magazines Digital Media

Before the internet, it was called advertorial. Today, it’s known as native advertising. But Hearst Magazines Digital Media’s strategy remains steeped in transparency. Todd Haskell, senior vice president and chief revenue officer, spoke to eMarketer’s Danielle Drolet about its native ad formats, measurement benchmarks and his take on the US Federal Trade Commission’s potential involvement.

eMarketer: Where are Hearst’s properties with native advertising today?

Todd Haskell: One can argue that we’ve been doing native advertising for about 40 years. Effectively, advertorials have been running in magazines and newspapers forever. That’s essentially what native advertising is, though clearly in today’s internet marketplace it has shifted pretty significantly. We introduced a suite of native products and formats in spring 2013.

How can we help advertisers create high-quality content experiences that leverage what we know and that engage our readers editorially? Or, how can we take those same approaches on behalf of an advertiser? An example of this is our “Trend Collage” product, which gives the advertiser the ability to create a pinboard experience, a similar format that we do journalistically, and we know our readers love.

eMarketer: How do you define native advertising?

Haskell: To us, native advertising is advertiser content that is provided to the reader in a way that leverages editorial tools and presentation.

eMarketer: Many people have expressed skepticism about native advertising because it blurs the lines between advertising and editorial. What’s your take on this so-called “slippery slope”?

Haskell: When you look at some of our big sites, such as Cosmopolitan.com or ELLE.com, these are built upon the foundations of very large, very successful brands, historically in print. Those brands are built upon a relationship of trust that we’ve built with our readers. The last thing that we should do is anything that would in any way diminish that trust relationship.

“Our approach is that if it’s going to be branded, it needs to be very clearly branded. It needs to say ‘Sponsored by’ or ‘Presented by.’”

Our approach is that if it’s going to be branded, it needs to be very clearly branded. It needs to say “Sponsored by” or “Presented by.” It needs to be very clear to the reader. There is a big debate. There are other publishers that have constructs that are less obvious to the reader. That is the very slippery slope. And, in particular for brands that have been around for decades, the last thing we should do is do something that’s going to confuse the readers.

eMarketer: By what metrics are your advertisers gauging the success of native ad campaigns on your properties?

Haskell: They vary. In some cases, it’s more of a traditional branding display metric, where it’s about getting the message in front of consumers. In others, marketers will drill further into the engagement life cycle, such as looking at how long people spent with the content and what action they took. An action could be “liking” something on Facebook, sharing the content in their own social graph, making an ecommerce transaction. The most important thing for a publisher is to understand what those key performance indicators are and build that thinking into how the experience is created.

eMarketer: The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into the possibility of regulating native advertising to avoid misleading consumers. What do you make of this effort, and in general, of the role of government in regulating advertising?

Haskell: Trying to regulate commercial disclosure like this is going to be incredibly difficult. Think about the nature of the web and how things change on a month-to-month basis. If you expect federal regulation to address these things in a way that’s not going to stifle the market, you are in for a surprise.

It’s more and more important that the industry have a very honest, self-regulatory approach that says here’s what we consider to be best practices. And then, hopefully, the market rewards those who exercise those best practices. We feel, particularly among the legacy publishers, it would be incredibly counterproductive to do the types of things that are deceptive to readers that the FTC is so worried about. These are brands that are built upon trust. The most important thing is to not stifle innovation. But make sure that people respect that valued relationship with the reader.

eMarketer: What wording do you use in your native ads to convey that the pieces are not editorial content?

Haskell: In addition to the wording “Presented by” or “Sponsored by,” we generally include the sponsor logo. This is particularly important because some organizations use their own sort of iconography, where maybe there’s a small dollar sign or it is coming from the XYZ studio and it’s the publisher studio. Marketers are kidding themselves if they think a user knows that means it’s sponsored or native. They don’t. If it comes from Kraft Foods, it should say, “Comes from Kraft.” That’s our position.

“What we won’t do is ask an editor to copy edit an ad or a native execution for a client.”

eMarketer: Who is producing the native ad content that runs on your platform?

Haskell: It’s primarily our marketing team, creative services studio and the advertiser. But we’ll also engage with the editorial team to shape these experiences and help us think about the content. The editors can then tell us if it’s presented and thought-through in a way that will engage and delight our reader.

What we won’t do is ask an editor to copy edit an ad or a native execution for a client. But we do actively tap into their insight and experience in terms of creating this content and how we should present it.

eMarketer: What qualities do brands have that make them a good partner for native ad campaigns?

Haskell: The most important thing is for a brand to be willing to engage with the publisher to understand what type of content is going to be the most valuable to the reader. A bad [decision for a] brand to make with native is to say, “It’s going to run across these 20 sites.” That is counterproductive. Native, by definition, needs to be native to that environment.

Also, work with brands, whether automotive, CPG [consumer packaged goods] or beauty, that are going to collaborate with the organization, and think about what is going to resonate most with the reader.

eMarketer: What’s next for your native ad program?

Haskell: We plan to invest more in content creation capabilities. We will be expanding from beautiful formats and experiences to more ambitious, long-form content and video, where we’ll literally create substantial amounts of content that the brands can use, not only in our native formats, but in their owned environments.

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