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Native advertising, content marketing, mobile and the future of online publishing – a panel event

Get ready to see more “sponsored content” on your mobile phone.

If you’re uncertain about the need for dramatic, disruptive innovation in the world of online advertising, ask yourself a few quick questions.

Have you clicked on a banner ad in the last month?

Have you ever felt anything but irritation at a pre-roll ad on YouTube? Do you have favorite pre-roll ads in the same way you have favorite TV ads?

If you’re like most people I know, you probably answered no to all those questions. The national average for click-through rates is about .1 percent. Sites like Sac Press that have more targeted ads (in our case, only local ads for an only local audience) tend to do better, but even if we double the average, we’re still talking about .2 percent. While this might be an accepted norm across the industry, the question remains – since when is .2 percent a good success rate for anything?

The relatively low value and cost of digital ads compared to print ads has been one of the biggest challenges facing online publishers, particularly news publishers, over the last decade. The shift of online readers from desktop to mobile platforms has exacerbated the situation, as readers are even less likely to pay attention to display ads on relatively small phone screens than they are when sitting at a desktop computer, making mobile ads less valuable. Within the news industry, it’s said that we went from “print dollars to digital dimes,” and now we’re headed toward mobile pennies.

The problem isn’t just on the publisher’s side. Brands and the creative agencies they work with need ways to effectively reach audiences online, and want more niche options than what Google, Facebook and Twitter can offer.

A potential solution has risen over the last few years, one that the more forward-thinking online publishers like BuzzFeed, Gawker or Mashable have already begun to master: the rise of content marketing and native advertising. The consequences of this shift will be important for online publishing, marketing and public relations. We’re going to sit down and talk about it all on Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Downtown and Vine, with three of the leaders in the field: Sharethrough and AdNative, two San Francisco agencies that specialize in native advertising, and StumbleUpon, the booking marking service that uses a native advertising strategy. We’ll also be joined by two of the leading thinkers on advertising in Sacramento, Dani Loebs from Augustine Ideas and Siobhann Mansour, vice president and media director with the Glass Agency.

The event, which we’re hosting with the Sacramento Ad Club, starts at 5 p.m, Tickets can be purchased online at the Eventbrite page. Get $3 off with the discount code “SacPress.”

What is native advertising, anyway?

Content marketing is brands producing their own content, be it photos on Instagram or videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Native advertising is the use of ads that display “in stream” within the editorial content, like a promoted Tweet, a “recommend” story on Facebook, or a sponsored post on a blog, as Christopher Schreiber, the vice president of marketing and communications at Sharethrough, explained to me earlier this week.

“It’s all about a more integrated, visually pleasing ad format that really matches the style of the site that it’s on, and that’s very different from the world we’re coming from with banner ads and display ads and pre-roll, which are one size fits all and are typically interruptive or just kind of sitting on the right rail of the page,” Schreiber said. “And none of those advertising formats were really that successful in engaging attention – people learned to either ignore them or click out.”

Native advertising has taken off in the last year, as social platforms adopted “native” approaches to ads on their platforms. Facebook saw its mobile revenue increase dramatically as it adopted newsfeed ads, which “place marketing messages directly into a user’s content stream and are designed for mobile devices,” as Midsize Insider reported.

Schreiber saw the industry shift in response to Facebook’s move.

“You saw Facebook come out with sponsored stories which was an in-feed ad and then you saw Twitter come up with promoted tweets, Tumblr came out with Radar posts, so all the major social platforms really doubled down on this native ad strategy in terms of the ad products they were building. And what we’re seeing now is that approach to advertising experiences are now coming out across the web. It’s really that in-feed, integrated ad style. In particular on mobile, we really think this going to start to become the standard.”

Native advertising comes with it’s own challenges, not the least of which is the need to be transparent and clearly indicate which content is editorial and which is advertorial. (The Atlantic had a high-profile sponsored post gaffe earlier this year, and tightened its advertising guidelines as a result. The Onion published this soon afterward.)

It’s a complicated arena, with high stakes and big opportunities Join us Wednesday, Aug. 14, at Downtown and Vine to learn more.

Editor’s note: Every Thursday we deliver a local event guide straight to your inbox, right on time to make your weekend plans. Sign me up.

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