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Adam Kleinberg

Natives Get Restless

by Adam Kleinberg

Natives Get Restless

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story in AdAge called "Why Bad Native Advertising is Worse than Banners." In that story, I called out the CEOs of Sharethrough and BuzzFeed for what I perceived as inconsistencies between things they were saying and reality.

This morning I had breakfast and a nice conversation with Dan Greenberg, the CEO of Sharethrough. While I stand by everything I wrote, I feel like Dan's side of the story deserves to be shared.

After reading the story, Dan invited me to have breakfast. I originally thought he wanted to meet at his office in Jackson Square, but I had just watched the "Red Wedding" episode of Game of Thrones, so I said "no way." We had breakfast by my office instead (JUST KIDDING, DAN).

In my AdAge piece I posted a screenshot of a video we ran on ShareThrough that wasn't identified as an ad—something that was confusing to users and the kind of thing that Dan blogged should be a no-no for advertisers.

In his email to me, Dan wrote:

We've evolved a ton over the past 12 months and I'd like the opportunity to show you what we are up to and share our worldview and product firsthand. I have a feeling that we are 99% in alignment in terms of what "good" native advertising is all about, and I think we'd get along.

To be clear, 100% of all Sharethrough native ad placements have "Sponsored by BRAND" or "Promoted by BRAND" or "Advertisement" directly above or below the content.  In some cases that "advertisement" tag is served by the pub outside of our tag, and sometimes it's served within our native ad tag.

Not that it matters now, but for the record, that one ThoughtCatalog placement you called out was an anomaly and something I personally noticed, in fact (at which point it was quickly fixed, months ago).

This issue is important to me — I hate bad advertising, and I hate that the ad industry has so many nefarious actors. We are the farthest from that type of bad behavior, which is why your post struck a chord. To that end, I've been asked to co-chair the IAB's Native Ad Committee, and clear disclosure is one of the first topics we are going to tackle (along with standardizing in-feed ad formats, among other items tbd).

To be clear, I think it's great that the IAB is implementing standards, here, and I applaud Dan for devoting his time to be part of them.

Dan told me a great story that I think really underscores how emerging ad tech can be the like the Wild West. 

A highlight on Dan's resume before starting Sharethrough was helping teach the "Facebook Class" at Stanford the year that Facebook released their application API. They were discussing theories of what motivations cause people to share and create virality in applications and they assigned each group in the class one of those theories to test in a real-world Facebook application.

A few of the class projects were actually successful and started to catch on with users in the Facebook ecosystem. After a few weeks of this, one of the students asks a question:

"Um, not sure if I should even be asking this, but we were getting millions of visits so we just popped a banner ad in our app and we're making like $3,000 a day. Can we keep that money?"

And thus, a new form of "native advertising" was born.

Obviously, those students didn't have IAB standards at the ready to guide them. This is entrepreneurship in a petri dish. 

But as businesses scale, like Sharethrough is doing, we need to make sure as an industry that we are protecting users. Dan showed me some cool mobile units Sharethrough is working on and it's great that these are being developed from the ground up with the end user in mind.

I'm glad to see that standards are being defined and happy to hear that Dan is involved with making them happen.


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