In order to avoid seeing that the internet is cluttered with low-quality ads, you’d have to live with your eyes closed.
Ads are everywhere you are—on social media websites, educational blogs, newspaper websites, online shops—you name it. People are sick and tired of ads, and that’s the cold truth.
Colorful banners, autoplay video, pop-ups and pop-unders—most of us hate them. We are fed up with being seen as a possible source of revenue. The rise of ad blocking—and the related change of the online advertising ecosystem—seems like the most logical and predictable scenario possible.
But what about ads that are not particularly annoying? How about ads pretending to be a piece of content? Or ads that sit quietly while you’re reading your morning news and hope you’ll mistake them for another news article? Should such “well-behaved” and “polite” ads be blocked, too? Is it even possible to block them?
An Introduction to Native Ads
If you think that native advertising is yet another trendy thing in modern marketing, you’ll be surprised to learn that the concept is by no means new.
Although the term “native ad” was coined not long ago, in 2011, the concept itself has been around for a few hundred years. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, ads on newspapers looked much like the news articles themselves—one-column pieces, minimal illustration or no illustration at all, and the same fonts as those used for news articles.
So what is native advertising? How does native advertising work?
The term refers to advertising that mimics the design, structure, and tone of the surrounding editorial content. It works by making you think that you’re clicking on or reading a general piece of content, while in fact it is sponsored.
If you read news online, there is a 99% chance you’ve fallen victim to native ads at least once, and the experience weakens trust in legitimate publishers. How does this work? Let’s say you go to The Economist website and look through the headlines. One of the titles catches your eye, so you click. Suddenly you realize you’re being redirected to a landing page trying to sell you something. You feel disappointed and fooled. The publisher you like has just lost a few points of your trust.
It’s unsurprising that native ads are controversial.
On one hand, native advertising is usually less annoying and intrusive than other forms of advertising. Unlike pop-ups or super colorful banners, they don’t distract you much. That’s a good thing.
On the other hand, native ads are designed to fool you. From the start, they are meant to trick you into thinking they are not ads at all. From this perspective, these ads are even more manipulative than other ad formats.
This is what native ads were hundreds of years ago; this is what they are today and what they will be tomorrow. So, there’s nothing new, except nomenclature.
Should Native Ads Be Blocked, Too?
The short answer is “yes.”
While it’s true that native ads are less destructive and annoying, they are still ads, meaning their major goal is to lure you away your focus and fish a dollar from your pocket. Ultimately, they are meant to fool you; they are dishonest.
What’s worse is that the social media we love so much are some of the most guilty of helping native ads thrive. Intentionally, Facebook and Instagram make ads look exactly like the original content. Needless to say, this makes navigating the platform feel like tiptoeing through a minefield. Over time, the quest for ad dollars is pushing users to social media intolerance.
Furthermore, native ads often harm the reputation of the websites they inhabit. We all know that ad placement matters. However, when native ads are put in the wrong place at the wrong time, the consequences are miserable. Consider, for example, the scandal with Atlantic’s article on Scientology or the heated discussions around the Economist-BuzzFeed strange collaboration.
To summarize, the well-established magazine The Atlantic showed a sponsored post about the Church of Scientology. The paid post contained obviously staged photos of the new breed of “churches” and announced the opening of Scientology centers around the globe. Surprisingly, a series of too-good-to-be-true comments followed. Unsurprisingly, a wave of negative comments followed, too. A bit later, The Atlantic closed the comments section altogether. The story ended with a public apology from the magazine for apparent endorsement of the Church of Scientology.
As for The Economist-BuzzFeed collaboration, do we really need to comment? Just imagine the high-quality content The Economist is famous for published next to BuzzFeed’s typical post “X Things You Didn’t Know About This-generic-pop-culture-thing.” Obviously, it is not what the readers of The Economist love about the news magazine.
This is what native ads can do.
And it’s not the end of it. To be effective, native ads should be highly personalized. Personalization is impossible without tracking. And, as you probably know, tracking is a problem if you care at all about your privacy and security online.
The main question is simple. If you choose to live ad-free and if you are sick and tired of being manipulated, then why make exceptions for native ads? The answer is obvious. You shouldn’t.
But, Can Ad Blockers Block Native Ads?
In the eyes of an ad blocker, native advertising is not much different from a pop-up ad or banner ad. To users, however, native advertising looks different from pop-ups and banners. From a strictly technical standpoint, it is still a sponsored piece of content, and special computer programs are able to see the ad for what it is.
If it’s a high-quality ad blocker we are talking about, it will easily detect and block this type of ad. Given the rapid pace at which ad blocking technology is developing (and the fact that the industry leaders use AI to make their ad blockers increasingly smart), it is unlikely that native ads will outsmart ad blockers.
Ad Blockers vs. Native Ads: The Conclusion
Although the majority of marketers want to believe that native ads could be a compromise between old-school digital ads and outright ad blocking, in all honesty native advertising is just another ad format. This means that as long as people want to block ads (not just get rid of the most intrusive ones), our job at StopAd will be to block as many ads as possible, regardless of their format. Blocking ads without exception—it’s who we are, and it’s what we do.
Do you think native ads should be allowed or blocked just like the rest of online ads? If there should be exceptions, what should they look like?