Commentary

What's Native? Let's Start With A New Name

What do you call advertising annealed into publishers' content, marketing communications that has been annealed to the shape of the digital environment in which it resides? 

During this week's OMMA conference, whether the daily thematic focus was social, video, or mobile, participants found themselves in the native muddle, like boats drifting again and again into a rhetorical eddy. At OMMA Mobile on Wednesday, Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, made the strongest point about it: "I hate the word 'native,'" he said. His argument was, in essence, that it complicated the issue because it's a lazy hook that sounds good but doesn't actually mean something.  

Someone coins it, it sounds cool and gets knocked around like a birdie by people who hope beyond hope that whomever they're tossing it to knows what they happen to mean by “native.” 

Joe Mandese, MediaPost’s editor-in-chief, who was moderating a panel on social media (aren't all media social, come to think of it?), asked the audience if they could come up with a better name. Nobody volunteered. So last night I gave it some thought. It's not easy because I know it when I see it but coming up with a catchword that catches it all is tough Here are some ideas: 

Metamorphic: Because, depending on who is doing it and where it's going, and where it lands, "native" could mean branded editorial content, contextually relevant advertising; advertorial; advertising camouflaged as something else; advertising pretending to be editorial; collaborative content between publisher and advertiser, and possibly a lot of other things. 

Annealic (totally new word I just invented!): to anneal metal is to heat it up then cool it to make the metal workable so you shape it, tool it, press things into it, etc. I saw that word for the first time in Faulker's story about a Mississippi flood. As I recall it, he used it metaphorically to describe how some object was “annealed” into the calm glassy waters, as if it had melted into it. 

Symbiotic: This is my favorite. It works because symbiotic is the opposite of how a banner ad survives in its niche, which is a parasitic situation. A banner ad wants to steal your attention from content. From the viewer experience perspective, it is alien and interruptive, and even if it is compelling, it's a complete disconnect. Symbiotic integration means the brand serves the content and vice versa. It feels like the content, flows like it, but doesn't sneak around like a rock fish trying to be something it's not. And you stay in the publisher's world. Ecologically, we're talking here about the difference between a pilot fish and a moray eel. One lives by cleaning a shark's teeth. The other,  by stealing the nutrients out of the host. 

Another topic came up that struck me as semantically vague. I will say that I know as much about media buying and selling as I do about how to do a hip replacement, but the concept of the programmatic buy is confusing. And I think it's why a specific conversation at OMMA Mobile about whether native can be programmatic became yet another eddy with the panelists bumping into each other again and again as they circled around the issue.  

It strikes me that programmatic ad placement is a continuum not a dichotomy versus "non programmatic." Isn't every digital ad you'll ever see programmatic? There's algorithms involved and automatic placement, to a greater or lesser degree.  

Someone else, on a different panel I think, made the point in passing that in the digital media world, adjectives are turning into nouns. But that's a column for another day. I have to mention something here, before this evening's closing moments: my daughter confessed to me last night that she used to think an arsonist was someone who used arsenic and that an arsenic was someone who started fires. I had been really worried about her professional future, but now I'm not. My daughter, the media consultant. 

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2 comments about "What's Native? Let's Start With A New Name".
  1. Seth Ulinski from TBR , May 23, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.
    Karl, great write-up and some fun/colorful descriptions. My thought was "responsive" covers at least a few of the nuances associated with "native." I wrote about this in an OPI piece a while back: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/221982/native-is-good-responsive-is-better.html
  2. Leslie Laredo from The Laredo Group , May 25, 2014 at 1:53 p.m.
    Karl, I agree, that we need to change the name because there are many different considerations and elements (strategies and tactics) to use for the buying/selling of Native Ads. The IAB Native Ad Playbook created 6 categories of Native Ads. I think there might be a simpler way to align the different types of Native Ads with the overall strategy of understanding how to use form, placement, content and functionality to increase reach and relevance. So I will attempt another scenario to categorize and define: Form/Function Ads – Ads whose format, placement and functionality only work within a specific platform, e.g. sponsored tweets, posts, pins, etc. This reflects the original definition of native advertising or “monetizing native platforms" including ads on social networks, sponsored images (e.g. TripleLift, GumGum), as well as search ads. Organic (display) Ads – Similar to organic search results where URLs and listings are shown for pages that match users’ search queries, Organic (Display) Ads whose content and placement are those that match the flow (placement) and are highly relevant (match the endemic content). Examples, Forbes Brand Voice, The Atlantic and HuffPo’s sponsored content. Diffusion Ads (though I like “Diaspora” Ads) – Using platforms such as Outbrain and Tabula that distribute ads as content or ads that appear in content feeds. Spreadable Ads (though I like “Contagious” Ads or “Contagious” Sponsored Content, but realize that has a negative connotation) are ads that are written/designed to provoke high levels of engagement and create more opportunity for viral distribution. Example Buzzfeed, SayMedia.