At MediaPost's OMMA Native conference on Tuesday, one panel mulled media and brand strategy around native advertising; who is best positioned to oversee native practice and execution among marketers and agencies; and how peoples' perception of native advertising and branded editorial content is changing.
Steve Rubel, EVP of global strategy and insights at Edelman, took a balanced view of how aggressively marketers should execute in the native space, suggesting that brands might do well to take their feet off the pedal when it comes to paid and owned.
"We are going way too fast down this path in terms of data around what readers and viewers want," he said. "And I've encouraged publishers to be very transparent about what they're doing. The press has a good chance to own this. They have a chance to be the lead horse because they know their readers best, have incredible skills in content development, and we are foolish to think we can equal that."
He said PR firms are the natural choice for serving as conning towers for launching native programs and finding the right path and destination, and mediating with publishers. "We are experienced at marketing and media people; that's what we do through paid, but that skill is still there." He added that PR is the natural navigator "if the publisher and brand can't work with each other to create that surface area"
A nice analogy for the perils of crossing the PR/editorial membrane from the Edelman strategist: "We honestly are very conflicted about this topic. Think of it as a two-lane road with a double yellow line; if one driver messes up, he is dead. And so is the guy coming in the other direction. There's a kind of covenant that says 'I'm not going to do that.' I think that's where we are with native advertising. That double yellow line is the buffer but you can't fudge that too much. So the ethical discussion has to be elevated."
Baba Shetty, chief strategy and media officer at Digitas, said there's cultural recalcitrance at brands and agencies when it comes to thinking creatively and — to use an overworked term for intramural collaboration — holistically. And he says marketing and media leadership is key to culture change. "It's about who can leave their legacy frame of mind and bad habits behind them. Ad agencies are traditionally in the business of thinking about pre-packaged distractions and interruptions and distributing that at scale. Publishers have a great legacy of editorial voice and being protective of that and the line between business and editorial."
Peyman Nilforoush, co-founder and CEO of inPowered, said he knows all too well how hard it is to dissolve the silos separating media, strategy, PR and creative, and that doing so is necessary to executing in the native space. "We have worked at getting companies to change their siloed [organizational structure]; to get them to work together and actually do something."
One space where editorial/creative firewall and juxtaposition issues are becoming less of a bugbear is social media, noted Rubel. He suggested that the chaotic nature of social on sites like BuzzFeed could be slowly eroding consumers' own sense of which lawns native advertising should or shouldn't tread upon. "Social media blew that up because we have grown accustom seeing pictures of cats next to atrocities, next to brand messages and ads, and news. So social and mobile is where this is going to be easier. There's no preconceived notions. When we look at a web page we are trained to where ad should be. With social it's all over the place." And, he adds, with TV consumers having grown accustomed to seeing brands integrated with content anyway.