What does "native" really mean?
The term springs from the Latin word nativus – to be born into something. Its first definition in my dictionary is "existing in or belonging by nature." Which, in my view, is a good talking point for where native advertising needs to go from here.
Today we frame native advertising around being part of its media channel: for example, ads baked into the flow of online media. Done well, it can be a lot less intrusive than traditional advertising. Done less well, it can be hard to differentiate from advertorials and blatant incentives. But we should be asking a deeper question: how does advertising grow so that it really belongs in the customer's world?
I think the answer lies in defining native advertising in terms of adding value for the customer, versus its medium.
In other words, you can't just place a buy with your favorite social media provider, pick out a few keywords, and put your feet up. A sponsored ad that misses the mark is just as invasive as a banner. In fact, it is worse, because it destroys trust between people and their content. You can tune out or shut off most forms of interruptive marketing, but bad native ads often elbow the good stuff we are looking for out of the way. When it doesn't work, the reaction is universally negative. Not exactly a recipe for brand engagement.
Now, compare this with a world where brands move towards value-creation for consumers in the form of a better user experience. In our case, we help consumers go through necessary processes like password reset or online payment verification, faster and more efficiently, by presenting a TYPE-IN instead of gibberish CAPTCHA code.
There is good sociology behind this worldview. As we have evolved from a handful of captive media channels to a world of information on demand, consumers have changed. They don't want to be interrupted, and they no longer want to be "sold." But social media channels are proving that when you build something of value, people join your community and want to hear your message. Extrapolate these trends into the future, and you will see where we are headed.
I believe the consumer of the future is going to demand a two-way relationship with the brands they partner with. Real native advertising, that becomes an enabling technology for giving people more of what they want, is one way to usher in that revolution much more quickly. In the process, our entire industry will make a necessary shift from trying to interrupt consumers to becoming part of their lives. We will earn the right to belong in their world.
To me personally, native advertising should serve a higher purpose. We talk about "serving" ads, and in a very real sense I feel they should "serve" the customer. They should add value to what they are thinking, doing, and looking for. And that means engineering a lot more intelligence and speed into the process.