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What's the status on measuring effectiveness of native advertising?

Jul 30, 2015

Since the dawn of native advertising, one recurrent theme of criticism and uncertainty has been the apparent inability to measure the effectiveness of sponsored content. We have written about it before: The native conundrum: How to measure effect and we are hardly alone in identifying measurement as something of an Achilles heel for native advertising.

Two years ago, Adage wrote about the subject and started with an opening line that still rings true to this day:

"Sites like Gawker and Forbes offer native advertising, but the jury is still out on how publishers should measure the effectiveness of these advertorial products.

The article cites a study made by The Online Publishers Association that only adds to the confusion surrounding measurement:

The Online Publishers Association asked 29 of its member companies how they gauge success of native ads, and how they define the sometimes amorphous ad category. They found there really is no consensus but the largest portion -- 57% -- are using the metrics of content, namely engagement and time spent, as key barometers for native ads."

Fast forward and you realize that nothing much has changed. Budgets for native advertising continue to rise, but the confusion remains the same. Take this article from, written just a couple of months ago:

"Out of 127 marketers surveyed by the Association of National Advertisers, 55 percent said their native advertising budgets increased last year and 63 percent expected those budgets to increase this year.

However, marketers find that measuring native advertising is challenging. The ANA warns that a lack of standardized metrics could impede further growth of the promising channel. Marketers track a range of metrics. No single metric stands out as most important."

A couple of months ago or a couple of years ago, it doesn't really make a difference. There are many metrics, perhaps too many, and no one seems to understand or agree on which ones are the most important.

What's the status on measuring effectiveness of native advertising?

According to the survey made by the Association of National Advertisers, a representative body for the marketing community in the United States, marketers use all kinds of different metrics to gauge the effect of their native advertising efforts.

Chart Chart courtesy of the Association of National Advertisers

If we are to believe the survey, marketers pay attention to at least thirteen metrics when they measure the impact of native advertising. 'Brand lift', perhaps the vaguest of them all in terms of measurability, is the most important metric. 'Sales', traditionally speaking the end-all of marketing, is the least important metric. It's a surprising outcome.

Or maybe it isn't. The entire point of native advertising's 'measuring conundrum' is that many marketers and brands use native advertising for a purpose that makes it difficult to immediately assess if a certain piece of advertising was successful or worthwhile. This has reinforced the idea that the impact of native advertising is almost impossible to measure.

But there is a misconception at play here. When you look at the different metrics, from ANA's survey, several of them are exceedingly measurable. 'Click-throughs', 'Social media sharing', 'Time spent', 'Audience reach and frequency', 'Data capture' and 'Downloads' are pretty much automatically measured on any given digital platform regardless of content specifics. 'Lead generation', 'Customer acquisition', 'Sales' and 'Registration' are possible to track too.

The real problem behind native advertising's 'measuring conundrum'

Perhaps the real problem is not that the effectiveness of native advertising can't be measured, but rather the plethora of available metrics that make it difficult to identify which are the most important. There is a lack of standardization in terms of how to measure the impact of native advertising.

This vacuum doesn't affect everybody, however. When we interviewed Pontus Staunstrup, head of content strategy and social media at PostNord, we asked him what he thought of native advertising's ' measuring conundrum'. He almost fell out of his chair in disbelief: "What measuring conundrum?". He then said:

"Our measurement consisted of many different elements that we analyzed.

We had real time data from the media outlet, if we wanted to see how a piece of content was doing minute by minute. That was the first set of data. The second part was that we could see how our content did in comparison with editorial content. The third set of data was that we could analyze how current content was doing compared to previous content.

A fourth element that we tracked really carefully was the traffic flow from the media platform to our own website. So there is tons of stuff that you can measure when native advertising is carried out digitally. What’s really important is that you know what you want to achieve with your campaign.

We had very clear ideas of what we wanted the experience of our content to be.

One goal was to create awareness around the brand. Another goal was to position ourselves as experts in certain areas like e-commerce or logistics. A third goal was to drive traffic to our own website. A fourth goal was to generate leads to our sales department and a fifth was to convert those leads into sales.

We knew the criteria for each goal and we knew how to track them. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to convince my managers that this project was a worthwhile investment."

Those highlighted sentences are important and they probably represent the status on how to measure native advertising: If you know what you want to achieve with your campaign, the measurements are right there and up for grabs. If you don't know, however, you are going to get lost in metrics.

Anders Vinderslev is a trained journalist and former editor and key contributor to the NAI blog. He has, according to himself, produced some of the most thought-provoking and impactful reporting on the state of native advertising. Today he works as a content creator and editor at Brand Movers, but from time to time he will deliver spicy takes on native advertising and sponsored content here at the NAI blog.

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