The best native advertising should perhaps aspire to be the digital branding equivalent of Frank Lloyd Wright's “Falling Water”: it fits in without trying to conceal itself.
The Grey Lady has something to say about that. Given that The New York Times has created highly engaging, sophisticated and aesthetically consistent marketing partnerships with the likes of Goldman Sachs and United Airlines, it has some perspective on what draws in an educated audience.
At OMMA Native during Internet Week, New York Times EVP advertising Meredith Kopit Levien looked at where native has been, where it should be going, and what’s driving it there.
She actually kicked it off with a screening of arguably the first and best branded entertainment exercise, the ’70s global Coca-Cola songfest, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." Said Levien: "The first song I ever loved was given to me and the world by a brand. It's an ideal representation of native ads before such a term existed."
Native advertising, she said, exploits the form, factor, discovery mechanism and production values of the surrounding content, taking the shape of the storytelling around it and aspiring to similar engagement.
That aesthetic will be at the center of the rediscovery of great ads for the digital age -- something that she said hasn't exactly happened. Digital advertising, she asserted, hasn't yet been represented by ads like that Coke spot and the best of TV and print that came before it that are additive to the culture. "I want to argue that in transition to digital advertising much has been gained, but something else, a key element has been lost. Native has power to restore that."
The shift to mobile and the need for a better business model are both making native imperative, per Levien. "The disruption being caused by the shift from desktop to mobile is far more dramatic than any disruption that we have seen in recent years, including from print to digital. There is no concept of adjacency in mobile," she said. "The message needs to be right there in that same stream."
And, she said, for most of the Web's history what marketers were buying from media companies was audience. Now they need storytelling tools. "Those are both things that premium publishers have in spades.”
When a media company and marketer are sharing storytelling tools, anything you do to advance that platform and tools benefits everyone involved: marketer, media company and end user."
Levien offered some nuggets on successful native strategy:
- It must be the creation of something new, "or a new way of thinking about an old topic. The Coke commercial is an example of something new being brought to the world: Harmony, not soda."
- Reach used to be something bought. Now it's bought and earned. "In the social world the burden for getting reach is harder, but a lot less expensive. The Coke commercial played to 75 million people on the Super Bowl. Now, on digital, our Dialect Quiz got 21 million page views.
- Your brand is really the subplot. It isn't about the brand but the brand finding the story that will be most interesting. "That might sound obvious but it's hard."
- How you tell the story matters as much as the story itself. (And how you tell it depends on where you tell the story, and who helps you tell it.)