'Native' Ads Are Fine, But Viewable Ads Are Better

Advertising's Biggest Challenge Is How to Get Great Content Seen

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Native advertising is alternately being heralded as the cure for what ails the digital ad business, or dismissed as the same old content marketing in a new dress. Getting caught up in this debate is not what matters. What we need to turn our attention to is how to get great content and ads surfaced and seen. It's time to address the true issue: viewability.

If we're going to forge ahead and make branded content work for brands, publishers, and consumers, we need to fill in what's missing. Whether it's native, custom, sponsored, premium, or scalable, we need to explore new ways to get all of this amazing content we're creating surfaced, seen, and discovered in the digital stream. After all, investing in assets that just lie dormant in a forgotten banner ad would be a waste.

Branded content is nothing new. Just think back to the old days of the microsite and the millions spent on developing those online ghost towns. The reality is that it doesn't matter how much excellent content we create if nobody can find it. Companies such as Kraft are now spending millions to produce recipes and videos that are truly of value and interest to consumers. Brands and publishers want to get all their great content and ads viewed and engaged with.

We must show consumers that we take their needs, priorities, and interests to heart, and that means making a real effort to offer content in a way that makes engagement easy. For advertisers and marketers, all of the fuss about ad viewability really just comes down to how we deliver media to consumers. When we create advertising that appears in the user's area of attention at the exact moment of interest, we won't have problems with ads that are taking too long to load or appearing below the fold. Every ad will be viewable, and every ad will make a real impression.

Some are offering viable solutions to the surfacing and viewability problem. Volkswagen, working with Deutsch LA, partnered with Facebook last month to showcase a series of charming and consummately human driver vignettes. Procter & Gamble brought footy (the British kind) home to fans in a recent venture with Google. And of course, Machinima has turned YouTube into the must-have tool in every branded-content arsenal. At Vibrant, we've taken a different tack, creating a new platform we call "mosaic" to help brands surface their content and campaigns across channels and platforms.

Each of these initiatives represents a different approach to the same problem: how brands can most effectively display their content where and when people want to see it, within relevant content, on every platform. That means getting into the stream, and getting into the edit well – not just being "native" to the page.

And brands should heed the advice of those who actually "own" those very streams. As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently said: "Our business is only going to work if we're putting content in front of our users that they want to see and that they engage with. And that 's the simple equation. If we do that , the users will be happy, our business will work, and our advertisers win."

They days of building it – content that is – and watching them come are over. Brands need to keep building it, certainly, but they also need to be proactive, creative, and strategic about surfacing it. Those that are will see their investments in branded content pay off. Finally.

Cella Irvine is CEO of Vibrant Media.
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