Publishing Mobile Content: The Return of the Native

Every year seems to throw its own controversy into digital marketing. Two years ago it was viewability. Last year it was pay-for-play audiences. This year we have native advertising. I’ve been speaking with the chief executive (CEO) of LISNR, Rodney Williams, over the last few months and have come to an interesting hypothesis: The current state of native advertising is much ado about nothing. Hear me out: As soon as you identify a good controversy in this business, it changes. The native advertising debate is about to move where everything else in digital marketing moves – it’s going mobile.

But don’t take my word for it. I ran this by Williams and this is what he had to say:

rodneyRight now, native advertising means that brands can create content or co-opt other content with the intent of making it more acceptable to a cynical and attention-poor consumer base. Think of it as a sponsorship. Brands have always sponsored the arena. They have sponsored tours. Now they want to sponsor songs and they want to look cool while they do it. Mobile content, mobile native content, and mobile branded entertainment is going to be the fastest-growing segment of this “native advertising” category by the end of this year. It will do so because it’s easier for brands to look cool. They can sponsor the arena and the song.

Remember that analogy. Brands have always wanted to fit in where entertainment is involved.

With the migration to mobile, brands will have tighter and more relevant integration brand connection. There are three reasons why Jeanniey is right and this will happen.

One: The weight of history. Everything consumers have done over the past five years has migrated to mobile at an incredibly rapid pace. In 2012 they spent $17 billion on mobile commerce. That jumped to $30 billion in 2013. There were 4 billion smartphones in 2012 and 5.1 in 2014. Native advertising (not yet measured for mobile) will be $2 billion this year, and is pegged by at 20 percent year-to-year growth by Forrester. It is a matter of a very short period of time before the mobile segment appears on the radar.

Two: Technology. Mobile content marketing can appear to be native and appear to be completely natural because of the trigger content technology that is proliferating across music, autos, and even video. If an uber CPG brand wants to get to a top 10 artist right now, it could sponsor a tour. Or appear in close proximity to a lovely editorial piece about said artist. Mobile technology, with its sense of audible and even inaudible signals, triggers the next right video or the next right song. You can sponsor the trigger. You can sponsor the song, and look cool.

Three: Necessity. Forward-thinking brand marketers are already seeing online native advertising as an extraordinary opportunity, but I think they see it as something to approach with caution. No less an expert than Ryan Skinner from Forrester is seeing native ads as a bridge between ad and edit. That bridge can disappear on mobile. He says, “From a marketer’s perspective, the opportunity to go from a position ‘next to the show,’ ‘interrupting the show,’ or ‘between the shows,’ to ‘part and parcel of the show’ is extraordinary. The church/state editorial wall that media outlets have trained advertisers to respect has become porous, and it’s the outlets themselves who are pounding holes in it (most recently, The New York Times). That change should not be underestimated.”

He’s right. It shouldn’t. But mobile should not be underestimated either, especially for publishing. A lot of marketing mistakes have been made doing that.

So, do you agree with Williams and me? Or do you have a different opinion? We’d love to know.

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