Man reading a newspaper

The science of headline images

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

Humans are visual creatures. 65% of us are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. Most of us process information based on what we see rather than simply the text that we read and this has long been recognised in education and the development of learning materials.

But we don’t stop being visual as soon as we leave school, it’s a characteristic that stays with us for our whole lives, and almost all of us are highly visual across the spectrum of our activities. Display advertising has, since its earliest beginnings, used powerful and highly evocative images that support the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Native images

Which is why Sarah Mandato, Director of Content Solutions at Nativo, is so right to remind us of the importance of headline images in our native advertising. We tend to focus on headlines when we evaluate or design content, but the headline image is actually doing the talking for a good proportion of the audience.

Mandato goes on to give seven tips for choosing visuals. She talks about being authentic; for example, pictures of real people rather than models, because most people only engage with real people, not mannequins, albeit living, breathing ones. She also carries that argument through to the use of stock-shots. We all need to fall back on them sometimes but they’re just not real enough to engage as a headline image.

Next she warns us against using product shots and again, in the context of native advertising, she makes the strong point that native engages by sharing the aspirations and the interests of the audience. It’s not the pack that sells, it’s showing the interested visitor that you understand what they’re trying to achieve.

Joined up thinking

Whatever visuals you choose, it’s obviously important that they should be hi-res and eye-catching, but it’s just as important that they connect with the headline and the body content. This aligns with the very heart of native that everything they see and read should add value to the experience; no ‘clickbait’ as Sarah Mandato describes it, and not too busy either because it won’t translate well on the smaller mobile screen.

Particular care should be taken when setting up auto campaigns. The spirit of native is that the content sits perfectly within the editorial stream; a headline image that has no obvious connection with the editorial environment will just scream ‘spam’.


With Christmas already a major theme on the high street, it’s worth saying a word about seasonality. Keeping in step with the seasons in both our content and visuals reinforces the currency of our content; out of season clothes and activities only really works if you’re trying to promote next year’s holiday.

Sarah Mandato’s final tip comes from the wisdom of all disciplines; test, test and test again. Play around with some of the variables that are in your control, and don’t worry too much about those that aren’t, such as what else is on during your live time.

Thanks to Sarah for some great insights; another example of how native advertising is building on its own experience, day by day.

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create or to curate content

To create, or to curate, that is the question

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

With native advertising and sponsored content now being the tool of choice for so many leading brands, the debate is now moving to an advanced discussion of the choice of strategy.

One of the first decisions will be whether to create, or to curate your content. Are you going to write brand new material, never before seen or read, that takes a fresh approach? Or do you curate your content, making use of your own assets and changing the way you share them; the product guide from last year, that video from the YouTube channel or the images from your social media channels.

In the beginning there was creation

One of the plus points of creating content is the chance to take a new direction; perhaps you want to capture a different audience or talk about a new topic. Good quality, fresh content will always attract followers who are searching for answers or to be entertained with new ideas. As you own it you can share it as you like, potentially increasing the opportunity to convert passing visitors to genuine leads.

As always success will be down to the quality of the content, there’s no room for vanity publishing here. If the work is up to scratch and offers genuine value to readers and rewards them for their efforts, then content creation is a great way to build your own credibility as a source of expertise.

Curating the existing collection

Curating existing content works to a different set of rules; in this approach you are driving more value from those existing brand assets. It’s a skill that develops from not only knowing your market extremely well but also being able to predict how that market will evolve; in effect the brand itself is becoming a publisher.

For some sectors curating will be the most appealing, particularly in areas such as fashion, motor and travel, where there is already so much content out there. Why invent the wheel, right? But it’s important to make it your own and develop a consistent brand voice that you can use throughout all your materials.

Room for both

Your content strategy should of course always be linked to your business objectives. It’s important for advertisers to create new content so you can stay ahead as the source of expertise and continue to deliver more value and better solutions. Nevertheless curating content has its place too! Your success here will depend on the editorial skills you bring to selecting the right material and then how you present the whole.

Over the longer period, think of your complete content strategy like a loaf of bread, sharing slices of interest specific stories to the market whose interest you share.

So, the answer is definitely to use both. It may be creating, it may be curating, they are both very powerful strategies when applied in the right context.

At TAN Media, we create and curate content for a range of brands across almost every vertical. We want to share our expertise and data insights, so you can make the most of content and engage with your target market. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your content needs to compliment your current brand strategy.

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Computer keyboard

How to craft killer headlines

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

The ever diminishing window we have to catch the attention and interest of our target market means that even native advertisers are reliant on that headline to make a firm connection. Not in the way of display ads with garish visuals and dynamic fonts, but simply by giving a taste of what’s to come.

In fact recent studies has shown that it’s even down to the number of characters in the headline; 70-90 characters, the response was 36%, 20-40 characters 19% and less than 20 characters a mere 13%.

Those are numbers we should not be ignoring; tripling the numbers of visitors who start to read the content is something that usually takes more than adding a few words. For native advertising that re-assurance that we can start delivering some value even in the headline, or at least hint more strongly of value to come, is very good news.

But why are headlines so important and how can we make them work even better in native advertising? As usual it comes down to really understanding the consumer.

Woo me, tempt me!

This means recognising that we are all still pretty much basic humans; our technology actually evolves a lot faster than we do. We’re easily distracted, we have very little staying power, we don’t like having to work too hard to understand things, we get defensive, suspicious and sometimes aggressive when people try and sell us things that we didn’t know we wanted.

Share the audiences passion!

This is embracing the people that are incredibly passionate about the things they love; whether it’s bee-keeping, cycling, saving the planet or simply just learning new things and finding new solutions.

Native advertising works so well because it understands the person but talks to the consumer, which requires a much more subtle and value laden approach if the result is to be true engagement.

Which brings us back to the issue of headlines. Native advertising can learn a lot from looking at the natural world

Native headlines: the nectar and the bee

For the flower to get pollenated it must first attract the bee. Once the bee has visited, the relationship between them is one of mutual benefit; flower suitably pollenated, bee full of nectar; just like the relationship between consumer and good native content; win, win.

So how to get the consumer to taste the native nectar? By borrowing from the wonder of the flower, a great headline that captures the attention and hints or teases about what is to come; it doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t but nor does it shout with brand names and product offers, studies mentioned headlines containing brand names are a real turn-off.

That tells us that headlines should be subtle but not so subtle that they’re lost amongst the ground cover. They need to say read me because I’m worth it, not simply grab attentions for attention’s sake.

Good headlines are a splash of the nectar to come, tasted at the moment of truth; to click through or not to click through.


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Native Content Best Practices

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

There are some who see native content as simply advertorial with a new name for a new generation. But for those who are prepared to dig a little deeper will be the reward; a treasure chest of thinking and understanding about how we new centurions communicate with each other.

Making comparisons with even the recent past is always, if not dangerous, then certainly unwise for planning purposes. Technology moves so far in such a short time that even basic terminology such as ‘marketing’ or ‘communication’ mean subtly different things than they did thirty or so years ago. In the latter half of the twentieth century marketing pretty much meant ‘selling’ and communication meant ‘telling’. Advertorials were still fairly blunt weapons, using brand names and images as often as possible between steps on a bland path to appearing witty and on the consumers’ side. Half-way along the first quarter of the twenty-first century and marketing is rather more about creating brands that reflect the lives’ of their target markets and communication is certainly more about listening than it is about talking. New methodologies need a reappraisal of the tools we use. Our approach and our introduction, especially in headlines, has to reflect the lightning fast filter of those whose attention we crave. Here are some native content best practices…

Headlines that work

No more than 60 characters, or about seven words, with sub-heads where the context takes a different angle. Make sure they’re relevant and current and use the under-rated colon to avoid a filler of joining words. Using multiple headlines for one article can really help drive engagementThe current data shows that content with between 1 to 5 headings drives a CTR (click through rate) of 0.83%; but that escalates to 1.3% with 11+ headlines. That means a benefit for tactical diversity when structuring your content.


Don’t be shy in testing a number of  images for your previews (as long as they are relevant!); again the research supports the power of imagery. One preview image is linked to a CTR of 0.79% but two or more alternatives push that to 0.98%; it needs more response analysis but that could well reflect the depth of relevance perceived by the audience.

Don’t be afraid to pose emotive questions in your headlines

Questions are important, it’s the way you show you’re listening; and the emotion you invoke, it’s the way you show you actually care.

Always call for action

Having made the investment in engaging your audience, any seasoned marketer knows that the next step has to be really simple. The call to action (CTA) has to be direct but not in a ‘buy it now’ sort of way; instead a ‘we’d love to chat longer’ contact or hyperlink keeps the customer in control. Thinks about adding additional CTAs in the body of the piece; if you’ve already hooked the fish why wait to reel them in?

If you’d like to discuss your native content or native advertising strategy, why not get in touch?

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create or to curate content

Native content passes consumer driving test

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

There was little to surprise those who have been waving the native content flag for some years in the findings of ‘The Power of Native’, a major study from the Association of Online Publishers (AOP).

However, it always feels good when independent feed-back supports and confirms your own long-standing mantra. With 1,500 people approached in the quantitative survey and five in-depth qualitative interviews, the study was robustly constructed and managed, giving a good level of confidence in the outcomes.

Top line results showed that respondents scored the native content higher on measures of it being informative, interesting, useful and helpful compared to traditional advertising, with the rating on informative being double that for traditional. Given that those were the values upon which the native approach has been designed, it is good to note that it is meeting its goal.

One major outcome was in the level of brand trust perceived when accessing the native driver via a premium content site, achieving a 32% positive response, as against access through the social media route at only 1%.

Traditional advertising won out over native on the measures of being eye-catching, clear and easy to understand; again no surprise there as the most successful traditional ads tend to be an attention grabbing visual and highly focused message.

This preference or perception split is particularly interesting because when the native content was supported by some traditional ads, uplift soared by some 38% compared to unsupported native content.

So, what are these insights telling us? One of the core truths, supported by the recent Internet Advertising Bureau guidance, is that native ads must be transparent to all as to what they actually are – sponsored. As this is an essential component of the trust element, there must be very few left who see the native approach as an opportunity for sustained deception.

The other major insight is that, in a reversal of the famous proverb, native advertising is very good at making the horse drink the water but not so good at leading the horse to the water. Perhaps this is our first insight into how the rapidly growing native movement is going to live in harmony with our traditional contemporaries.

Perhaps the task for traditional methods in the future will be to drive the consumer to the native content where the deeper engagement will take place. They are clearly different skills and there is, according to the survey, substantial synergy in their combination.

What is also clear is that the days of the hard sell are mercifully gone. With so many of our national institutions, such as the banks and the utility companies, recently pilloried for using dodgy sales tactics (and paying a substantial brand price for doing so) the relationship with the customer has returned, as it always does, to providing what the customer wants with a high level of genuine service.

Native starts that process by being interesting, informative and above all trustworthy; leading the consumer to providers of solutions that, ultimately, do what they say on the tin.

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mobile content

Follow the leader; a game for thoughtful natives

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

Like most imports from the United States, ideas tend to arrive on a tsunami of garish promotion liberally smothered with a dressing of wild enthusiasm. Sometimes though, just to mix a few metaphors, the present inside is actually more interesting than the wrapping.

One such import is the idea of ‘thought leaders’; not, as you may fear, a band of fiendish aliens controlling our minds and stealing our souls, but quite simply a bunch of folk who actually know what they’re talking about – and enjoy talking about it.

Call them thought leaders, call them icons, call them experts, whatever you want to call them we all have people in our mental contact list who we would turn to for advice. What’s more, we are ourselves probably the thought leaders, in our small way, for a number of stakeholder groups, such as our kids, our colleagues or our neighbours.

The point of all this is that, if we work on being thought leaders, we might just find that our community of thought followers starts to grow; and if we really know our stuff and put it out there in an easy to digest and easy to find fashion, our following could start to grow very quickly indeed. Read More

Native – copywriters, hacks, content creators in ad spend battle

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

The subject of good and bad writing, or rather, good and bad content, is very much centre stage in the speculation on the heady surge in native advertising’s popularity. The issue in question is who holds the moral high ground in the claim to be the best producers of ‘sponsored content’, as some of our more delicate publishers like to call it.

Before we start the contest, let’s just remind ourselves of the rules of the native advertising game. Instead of glaring banner displays, which research tells us the punters have learned to tune out; and dramatic and expensive photography which is then amortised across a broad spectrum of titles, we actually produce our native content tailored specifically to that one outlet, whether it’s print, broadcast or online. The logic for this being that, if that punter went to the magazine/site/channel in the first place then the chances are he/she went for the content rather than the ad; give them more great ‘content’ and they should be very happy. If some of that content is branded in a useful, relevant and not too distracting manner, then that’s OK too.

The proof as ever is in the stats. Research to date indicates that those punters spend as much time looking at the sponsored content as they do the editorial content and tend to associate the values of the advertiser with the values of the publisher. Thus a major oil company sponsoring/branding articles in an environmental mag, about the work they are doing on coastal wildlife protection, starts to develop a nice rosy glow, in branding terms.

So, that’s the name of the game; back to the battle of the word smiths for the prize of preferred creator.

In the blue corner we have the copywriters; those traditional mongers of advertising words and ideas. Usually good for a headline and some lyrical copy that can raise the life enhancing characteristics of dishwasher tablets to near ecstasy.

In the red corner we have the journalists and the editorial zealots. Their claim to the crown is that they represent the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Never will their values be desecrated at the altar of murky commercial values, nor their words driven by a bag of coin. Of course, after Watergate and its offspring we all believed them implicitly; well, that is until the affectionate label of ‘hack’ started to take on a whole new meaning.

In the, well let’s call it the purple corner, we have the youngest contenders; the content creators, children of the new digital world who are of, and can speak for, generations x, y and z. Their masters are not the pie sellers nor the evangelical truth slaves; no, the content creators have been raised and nurtured under the all seeing eye of the search-engine algorithm; they can certainly lead the virtual consumer horse to water but can they make it drink?

So, which do we trust most with the future of native advertising? Let battle commence!

How to make sure your native content stands out from the rest

By | Content Marketing, Native advertising

Native advertising is on the rise. Publishers and advertisers alike are embracing it with open arms, putting the consumer experience first. Here’s what 5 experts told about creating native ad content that stands out from the rest.

Lynda Hammes, publisher, Foreign Affairs
Critics of native advertising focus on the clarity and labelling of the native advertising within the context of editorial content. While that’s an important consideration, I think the effectiveness of native advertising actually relies on the substance and quality of the content presented. The scourge of listicle headlines that promise “amazing” things that “you won’t believe” are my least favourite model out there. Whereas, GE’s “Roadshow” campaign in partnership with Slate offered a list post that truly delivered on “13 game-changing innovations for 2013,” that I actually learned something from.

Mike McAvoy, president, The Onion
The ad should be created with the same craftsmanship as the editorial content that surrounds it. So how we approach our native-ad campaigns is to make sure the same creative minds that produce our award-winning content are executing these ideas,

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