The IAB Guide to Branded Content

The IAB has historically weighed in on native advertising to promote some degree of standardization in the field. Their recommendations over the years have relied substantially on the participants that weighed in, with the Native Playbook having perhaps the most interest and feedback from industry participants. The IAB recently released the Branded Content Creation and Distribution Guide (the "Playbook"). This Playbook does not seem to have attracted the same level of attention as other releases by the IAB - it doesn't even seem to have been acknowledged by most industry trade publications. Notwithstanding the above, because it is an IAB document it has the imprimatur of being an official recommendation and given TripleLift's increasing focus on branded content, it is worth exploring.  


The first point discussed in the Playbook is simply a matter of defining convention - what is the difference between branded content and native advertising. In the Playbook branded content / sponsored content means "content that is sponsored by / promoted by a brand that is non-promotional in nature." Whereas "native advertising is, quite simply, the paid distribution of branded content. [It is] the ad unit or posting one sees before one clicks to the branded content page." 

From the perspective of the marketer, the Playbook outlines three pathways to create and distribute content. They are 1) brand-owned content, 2) publisher-hosted and/or made branded sponsored content, and 3) branded content distribution (native advertising, as defined above). Brand-owned content is made by the brand itself, lives on its site, apps, social channels, etc. This is otherwise known as content marketing. Publisher-hosted is content created by the publisher and/or the advertiser, and it is on the publisher's site, apps, and social channels. Native advertising is the promotion of either of the two content types discussed above, in whatever format (e.g. in-feed ads, video ads, social ads, etc).

Once deciding upon the strategy for their campaign, the Playbook notes that the marketer will focus next on creative. For example, it highlights that awareness campaigns will benefit from shorter-form content delivered with a greater frequency whereas educational campaigns will need to focus on longer-form content. To generate the content, a marketer can use owned (e.g. their website, their existing social assets, etc), paid-for (e.g. publisher branded content studios, agencies, influencers, UGC, etc), and / or licensed content (e.g. curating existing or upcoming content from a publisher that fits an advertiser's strategy). The actual distribution of the content can be implemented through a number of creative types. The Playbook highlights "click-in" which is hosted on a publisher microsite, "click-out" which is the content on the marketer's site or any other site, and native video. 

The Playbook recommends that branded content campaigns be measured as driving one of awareness (recall), engagement, or consideration (favorability).  For engagement, the Playbook recommends a number of sub-categories that can be measured. These include "cognitive" - e.g. change in brand recall, purchase intent, brand consideration, etc, all of which can be measured by surveys; "emotional" - e.g. change in brand perception, change in brand favorability, change in brand loyalty, etc., which can generally be measured by surveys; and "behavioral/physical" - e.g. gaze time and rate, clicks, swipes, searches, likes, follows, etc., which can be measured through some combination of eye tracking, web analytics and social listening and analytics. 

Finally the Playbook discusses the importance of disclosure. Identifying that the content is paid for before and after the click is required under FTC guidelines. While the publisher generally has actual control over the disclosure, the brand should take care to ensure sufficient disclosures are implemented. This is especially true for influencer marketing.