The problem of clickbait in related articles

Nov 3, 2016

NY Times published an article about a click-bait report from a non-profit called, which claims 26% of ads on top 100 online publications are deceiving, click-bait-y and predominantly from anonymous advertisers. It’s an increasingly controversial topic, because some publishers took the widgets off their sites recently, other publishers survive mainly from revenue from these exact ads.

The article and the report are spot-on that these ads are sub-par and intentionally misleading. The networks need to do a better job of not allowing these types of advertisements. Publishers are right to demand that from the networks. Agencies need to educate their clients rather than blindly chase click-through rates. But this is all a symptom of something else.

We are talking specifically about a sub-version of native advertising called “related content” widgets. The outrage is unfortunate, because the vision behind these widgets has actually been to develop ads people would actually like. So what went wrong?

Programmatic-native is very young and nascent market. Media costs in this market are very affordable still, and often priced on CPC basis, which makes it very appealing for a certain class of advertisers that were normally found in paid search and affiliate marketing space. Zemanta recognized this very early on by only working with major agencies and brands. We stopped working with publishers and direct response clients that were simply looking for cheap clicks.

Over last two years, we have seen real brands and agencies slowly grow their experiments in native advertising, which also caused the media cost to keep growing. These marketers are part of IAB and other self-regulating mechanism promoting industry best practices. Eventually we believe the very advertisers that are responsible for recent bad taste will effectively be priced out of the marketplace.

These ads are a significant revenue generator for major and smaller publishers, they are not going away. It is up to the the SSP’s within the space to do a better job of policing themselves in order to make this more appealing to major brands who are willing to spend more to be to ensure their message is received positively by consumers.

We believe that for brands the value of native placements and the level of engagement they command is due to how the message is delivered. This is not promoted content but a native advertisement which should provide a clear and direct message to the consumer. If their native units set the expectation that the page the consumer is delivered to then they have nothing to worry about.

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Our story started in 2007 when we built one of the first web-based personal assistants in the blogosphere, the first native advertising unit for online publishing and the first, what is now called, “native exchange”. In 2014, we built and launched the first content/native DSP. The rest is history – history in the making.

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