News publishers can create revenue, maintain integrity by back-populating native ads

By Axel Wolrath

Tipser by Bolt

Stockholm, Sweden


The world has changed a lot in the last five to 10 years. From a reality TV star becoming president of the United States to a global pandemic that nobody was prepared for, life as we know it today often feels like an episode of Black Mirror.

In these times of crisis and great change, people continue to turn to familiar sources for reassurance about precisely what is going on. This was particularly true during the pandemic, when its subsequent lockdowns enforced upon whole populations saw people flock to TV news and major news Web sites like never before.

Publishers using native advertising must do so with care to ensure journalistic integrity is not compromised.
Publishers using native advertising must do so with care to ensure journalistic integrity is not compromised.

Paradoxically, while traffic numbers surged, the advertising dollars publishers have historically relied on to survive disappeared almost overnight, as the uncertainty about what was to come next shut down marketing budgets like a flick of a switch.

Supplying the demand under pressure

The demand for quality, independent journalism has never been greater and more necessary. Yet, many publishers find themselves at a crossroads as the implications of the transition into the fully digital age are understood.

With traditional advertising streams for legacy publishers on the decline and a huge percentage of digital advertising budgets flowing only toward the coffers of Google and Meta, learning how to diversify to survive is essential.

The subscription route has been a successful solution for some of the biggest and more financially well-off companies, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. But for others, convincing readers that previously free online news has the same value as that which they routinely give in exchange for a print version is proving more of a challenge.

A modern solution with a caveat

Affiliate marketing continues to play a big part in delivering reliable revenue to publishers in the cautiously optimistic post-pandemic landscape. Even traditional advertising has somewhat made a comeback in the last year.

However, publishers must continue to diversify revenue streams as much as possible to mitigate for the next unknown. Native advertising, or sponsored content, is one such new revenue source.

Within native advertising, advertising is incorporated into a publication to make it almost indistinguishable from other news items. A recent further development of native advertising is the arrival of embedded commerce, which allows readers to buy directly from the native content.

The big risk for news publishers when running native ads or embedded commerce on their sites is that journalistic integrity can be called into question. And there is the suggestion that some advertisers have been using the native ad format to present seemingly factual reports that instead give a one-sided or misguided view on a contentious topic.

To counter this concern, native ads must be done correctly and with complete transparency when employed in news publications.

Transparent and an added value

The best way a news publisher can counter a negative backlash to the implementation of native ads is to make a clear distinction between its news and commercial offerings.

Transparency is key, and editorial teams should be completely separate from those in charge of the commercial offering.

The benefits of transparency can be two-fold:

  • Transparency ensures journalistic integrity.
  • This pronounced separation between the news and commercial offering can be viewed as an added value by readers if done correctly.

Keep it simple

In one of its simplest forms, publishers can add commercial offerings to existing content after the fact through “back-populating.” This method of monetising content means commercial offerings are added to articles that are already published. In that way, monetary intentions are only introduced retrospectively.

This method ensures the clear line between news and commercial is maintained because ads are added after the fact. It also benefits by allowing the commercial team to work with what they know are already high-performing pieces of content and enabling buying options within this content wherever feasible.

In this way, the publisher improves the user experience. Instead of forcing the reader to Amazon or to click on links that send them to a third party, embedded commerce within this content allows the user to buy directly at the point of inspiration.

Back-populating is an excellent option for news publishers that do not have the resources to implement an extensive e-commerce initiative from the outset. The Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet applied this method to an already successful article and saw three minutes of work convert into sales of 300 cookbooks.

Set it apart and add exclusivity

Another more extensive example of native ads working successfully via embedded commerce is an initiative from one of Sweden’s national news channels, Dagens Nyheter (DN). The company successfully implemented native ads by adding a new shopping section to its Web site.

DN not only made a clear distinction between news and commercial offerings, but this new section was only accessible to existing subscribers. This added a layer of exclusivity to the products and deals that are offered here.

In the case of DN, one exclusive offer for subscribers generated almost €500,000 in revenue and played a big role in further enhancing reader loyalty and affinity with the brand.

The examples of DN and Aftonbladet are noteworthy for how they show the way respected news publishers can implement new revenue streams that deliver greater financial freedom while maintaining journalistic integrity and improving their readers’ experiences.

About Axel Wolrath

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