Native Advertising Is Making Media Brands Count for More, Not Less

The Media World Is Going 'Native' and That's Good News for All of Us

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You've no doubt heard the term "native advertising" in the past few months -- possibly far too often for your taste.

Internet Week, most recently, teemed with native-ad mania; I counted at least half a dozen panels entirely devoted to the subject last week in New York. Some pundits are heralding native advertising as the commercial savior of social media and mobile advertising, while others make the (related) claim that native ads will mean the death of the banner. BuzzFeed's president and COO boldly declared that "Native advertising is going to be the only advertising." …. All this when few can actually event agree on the definition.

I personally like the description, from Sharethrough CEO Dan Greenberg, of "ad strategies that allow brands to promote and weave their custom content into the endemic experience of a website or app."

Native ads differ from traditional ad formats by adopting the visual design and content feel of a publisher's site or technology. Examples include Facebook's sponsored stories, Twitter's promoted tweets and of course BuzzFeed's sponsored posts (in which BuzzFeed now offers a program to train agencies).

But I would not limit it to digital media. Broadcasters have been effectively doing something similar for brands. Take for instance ESPN's play for Coors Light, working its "Cold Hard Facts" into game coverage. Radio has helped deliver very localized forms of content to national brands. And advertorials and sponsored sections within magazines and newspapers have always been an option for brands.

Does that mean the media business is trying to affix a new label onto an old idea? Perhaps some may be, but overall I'm seeing some fresh views of how the media, marketers and agencies are choosing to evolve the business. Existing media are challenging long-held, idealistic lines between editorial and advertising. Emerging media are inventing new forms of brand messaging. Whatever label you want to use, I very much like the idea of native advertising and where it potentially is taking our business. Here's why:

Marketers will truly have to think about putting consumers first.
The premise of native advertising is for brands to lead with content. To succeed, marketers need to develop content that consumers actually want to see in the context of the environment where they find it.

The most successful example of native advertising is Google Adwords. Consumers recognize it as advertising but respond to it because it's useful to them in the context of what they're searching right then. Native advertising starts with the question, "Why are consumers spending time here, and what can we do to engage them in this place and time with our brand?" That's in stark contrast to the pure advertiser-driven model of putting the brand first and pushing it at them.

Media brands are going to count for more.
Forbes BrandVoice works for advertisers because of the equity that Forbes has established with its audience. The location within and the print edition lends credibility to companies that participate in this program -- but only so far as Forbes' credibility remains. Intelligent consumers also know that Forbes won't want to damage the trust in their brand.

This approach is valuable to the media brands looking to distinguish their offering and value and that fear they are being commoditized in a marketplace where real-time bidding on ad inventory and automated ad networks are growing.

Native advertising is generating innovative ways for brands to partner with media.
When American Express partnered with Twitter, it looked to identify areas where the brand and the medium might marry. The result was Amex Sync, where card members could get products and special offers with their synced American Express Card by tweeting special hashtags. (Amex is a Mindshare client, but we didn't handle this specific program with Amex Sync.)

Native advertising is helping drive adaptive marketing.
I've written on numerous occasions here about adaptive marketing, where marketers respond rapidly to events. AOL's Huffington Post development of its Newsroom product is a great example of how native advertising can facilitate this. In case you missed this, the Huffington Post is allowing brands to tap into topical and relevant news content that breaks, by developing related native brand messaging and posting it on the site's home page within two hours.

The ad industry has successfully built a business out of being highly creative with a handful of standard formats … the 30 second spot, the full page print ad, the 10x20 billboard. Native advertising challenges us all to be as creative in thinking outside of those boxes.

If you have any examples of great native advertising, feel free to share them in the comments box below.

Antony Young is CEO of Mindshare North America, a WPP strategy and media investment agency. He recently wrote "Brand Media Strategy," a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication offering strategies on communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.
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