Everyone is talking about native advertising these days as the hot new trend. Since there are so many different flavors of native, I thought I should start with some broad explanations and examples. Native advertising is when an advertiser publishes or sponsors content as part of the user experience. So instead of running banner ads around the editorial content, the brands actually weave their content into the site. Native can be a video, photo, infographics or a text article. An advertorial could be native. Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Sponsored Tweets are also a form of native. When an advertiser adds value and provides interesting, unique or funny content for the user rather than simply shoving marketing messages down their throat, that would be native.
Victoria’s Secret offers unique exclusive content and has transcended the native concept with its annual Fashion Show. It has become so awesome and so big that the event is a major TV event now, including performances from Rihanna and Katy Perry. If you cannot include celebs, then comedy might be a way to go. If a professional photographer has a slight advantage on Pinterest, then a comic has as an edge with native. The funny little skits that “Saturday Night Live” published on YouTube back in the early days would be another native variety. These were way out of the box and generated buzz simply because they were hilarious.
Another interesting aspect of native advertising would be the viral or buzz marketing component. Marketers hope that their content is so funny, useful or interesting that users will share it with their friends via social outlets. The leader in this area is BuzzFeed. These guys have made viral marketing a science. They are churning out really great content and then helping it catch fire with social sharing. If you want to know anything about their founder, Jonah Peretti, then you must read the exposé by NewYork Magazine, which is long but solid. BuzzFeed has worked with JetBlue to develop stories and lists that are interesting without hitting users over the head with JetBlue this and JetBlue that. A great example of its native advertising is the Top 50 Beautiful Photos Taken From An Airplane Window. Even though JetBlue does not even fly to many of the destinations that produced the amazing photos, it still sponsored this visually stunning post.
A fellow native pioneer is Sharethrough. I like its overall approach, and who doesn’t love a slick dashboard that helps convince clients that a campaign is rocking it. To excel with native you must make sure the story takes on a life of its own rather than living only on a publisher’s homepage. Sharethrough helps you track the viral sharing.
Felix Salmon has a great article on native, but I must disagree on one key point in his piece. He contends that ad agencies will lose a big amount of business as brands prefer to work directly with publishers. I see it the opposite way. Since native is so custom and out of the box, it seems that content production and placement would be harder and more complex than a basic banner ad. Even if you decided to work with only 10 sites, you would have to work with 10 different opinions from 10 different editors. So brands might want to be more involved in certain aspects but simply not have the time or manpower in house to tackle various moving parts.
So how can your travel or tourism brand execute a successful native program that users want to share? Take off your advertising and selling hat for a bit. Focus on creating compelling content that entertains and adds value. Don’t make the entire story about your own brand and you might just be on your way to success with native advertising. Try to stick to your areas of expertise. If you offer honeymoon trips, perhaps some photos from amazing past honeymoons would inspire future travelers. One cannot write a blog about native advertising and the travel industry without mentioning a new startup that seems to be on the right track called TripReactor.com. It is somebody to keep an eye on, but it is very early in the game.
I fully agree that native is great and out of the box, but it is not entirely new. Many companies have run custom-content sponsorships and advertorials over the years so it might be more accurate to say native has evolved. We ran Featured Destination advertorial sponsorships on IgoUgo.com in 2004 before Travelocity bought it. We did the same thing on VirtualTourist.com before the TripAdvisor acquisition. Publishers were integrating the advertising into the site back then, but what is possible now with social and video allows for more creativity and viral sharing.