You know native advertising has gone mainstream when Number 10 joins the fray. A little like getting a text from your nan, there are certain bellwether signs that a route to market has gone beyond
webinars and breakfast chats.
Where native goes will be incredibly interesting because agencies, advertisers and digital publishers are going to have exactly the same issues thrown up by
the good old-fashioned advertorial. Marketers are turning to online thesauruses to come up with new terms and any combination of words that say native is a lot more than advertorials served online --
but let's face it, that's pretty much what it is.
I make the point because sometimes when you dress something up, you can appear to be ashamed and arouse suspicion. Instead of coming up
with elaborate means of justifying native advertising, all those involved should just embrace the word "advertorial" and explain how much better native campaigns are. Digital is all about targeting
and metrics, with a resulting ROI that you could never glean from print, television or radio. So why not embrace this?
As any writer spanning both nationals and highly respected trade
titles will tell you, advertorials or sponsored editorial are an important means of keeping print publications going. Traditional hacks may not like it, but then they're probably not that keen on
signing on either.
Like anything, they have an up and a down side. There is obviously a compromise on editorial stance if a sponsoring company is bringing the reader content. That is
understood by everyone the moment they see a form of wording that lets them know the content has been paid for.
What they are really good at, however, is getting over a message and a point
of view that isn't always covered in the media. Journalists are the ultimate devil's advocate for the very good reason that they are the reader's friend, not the advertiser's. When that changes, and
is clearly signposted, brands have the opportunity to directly present their message. The best will do this in a non pushy way, the worst will continue to assume that because they have paid for a slot
they can fill it with marketing messages that try to ram home a point and send the reader navigating elsewhere.
Some of the best examples I've worked on are when a brand or sector that has
been hit hard in the mainstream media uses an advertorial to get their point across. Banks for example have used them to have a sensible discussion about the trade off between being asked to lend more
money while being told they have to keep more in reserve and not lend it.
In contrast one of the worst featured in a highly respected marketing magazine and was placed by a company
specialising in reaching students. Rather than build a narrative that tapped into an ongoing conversation and steered people towards them, the entire web page was a thinly veiled advert from which a
marketer could take away virtually nothing of any interest, had they even bothered reading beyond the first couple of sales-y paragraphs.
As with any other medium, there will always be good
and bad examples, but as native advertising goes mainstream -- and is widely expected to be the success story of 2014 -- a good starting point would be to embrace the new medium's heritage rather than
try to dress it up. Yes, these are advertorials, the message should go -- and guess what, they can now be highly targeted and you can get reports back with every metric you could wish for. What's
more, you can even do a deal when you only pay for engagement.
So let's drop the semantics and accept native for what is -- and then build a narrative around what it can