The Native Ad Buzz: Seeing Through the Noise

How many times have you heard the phrase “native advertising” over the last 12 months? (I bet it’s a lot). How about “social video”? (Google returns over three million search results for this phrase.) Every few years, the digital advertising community gets hooked on a hot phrase that serves as the rallying cry for our everyday efforts. While the phrase “native advertising” sounds innovative and exciting, the concept of content-led advertising is nothing new. Publishers have worked with brands on integrated advertising long before anyone had ever heard the phrase “native advertising.”

Native advertising formats are intended to sit organically among audiences while they deliver a brand message. In my opinion, to be successful, native advertising must meet two objectives:

First, the advertisement must offer content that provides web consumers some entertainment value. If the goal is to gain views at scale while promoting organic content, then the content itself needs to be good. Bad, non-ad content (that is, content void of significant interest to the user) doesn’t get organically viewed at scale; so you certainly cannot expect bad advertisement content to get any significant number of organic views. For a piece of content to be liked, tweeted, and pinned it has to be funny, shocking, moving, or involve some other form of entertainment that creates an emotional response for the viewer that is strong enough to compel her to share the content with her friends.

Taking a standard pre-roll advertisement and calling it a “social video” (a form of native advertising) is a lazy tactic and won’t work. Brands and media partners need to push the envelope in creating better content, instead of forcing the distribution of standard commercials. While pre-roll has a strong place in the ecosystem, it isn’t truly “native advertising” and therefore won’t garner the earned media results that clients are expecting. Side note to brands: if you’re paying too cheap a rate for native advertising, you’re not really getting native advertising distribution; true organic distribution isn’t cheap. Instead of focusing your efforts on finding cheaper media partners, work with the ones you trust and focus on creating good content to lower your effective cost of viewership.

Next, the advertisement must deliver a meaningful brand message to that consumer. This states the obvious; a native advertisement is an advertisement after all. Pushing out content that’s highly entertaining, but that doesn’t drive brand messaging is a waste. While entertaining content creates views, the advertisement has failed if it’s done at the expense of delivering the brand message. Brands need to work closely with their agencies and media partners to create content that will resonate within a publisher’s audience while ensuring the branded message is clear and highly visible. An effective way to do this is to work with publishers in the creation of your branded content…after all, who would know their audience better than a publisher?

The concept of content-led advertising isn’t new, but what is new (and exciting) is the rate at which brands are adopting this advertising medium. While expectations are high for native advertising, it’s important that, as participants in the ecosystem, we create campaigns that make full use of what native advertising is truly about. The rapid thirst for native advertising formats creates great opportunities, but the trend also creates a lot of noise and clutter. When trends become too hot, the marketplace can react with a flood of half-baked products with “native” in their titles. Be wary of scrappy startups who are trying to jump on the bandwagon with marginal products, and instead select vendors you have worked with and trust to help you execute your native advertising strategy.

Native advertising is a publisher-driven form of marketing, so brands need to work more closely with their media partners to act as a publisher and produce effective content that drives audience reaction, which in turn will help achieve the desired results from any campaign. My advice to brands is that they need to work directly with publishers early in the creative process, as publishers are the ones who know content production best, which can make a big difference in ensuring success for your campaigns.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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