The Karaoke State of Native Advertising

Apologies to those who have witnessed this in person, but more than a few karaoke bars have seen me grace the stage over the years.  I’ve belted out power ballads, rocked epic air guitar solos, and dropped the mike after old-school raps.  Nobody -- and I mean, NOBODY -- has ever mistaken me for Bon Jovi. 

It’s not just because my voice is terrible (which it absolutely is).  The truth is that even guys who can hit the notes are never mistaken for the real thing. They can sing the lyrics and even wear the clothes, but nobody is fooled.  It just feels different.

Unfortunately, karaoke is the state of much native advertising today.  It’s no wonder.  Ask someone to define native, and you’ll get the usual talk about advertising or content that is designed to LOOK like other content on the page.  Focusing on form misses the point.  It also misses the audience.

Today, advertisers can publish whatever content they want on their own platforms.  They choose to partner with media brands because of the relationship those brands have with a target audience.  To their readers, media brands are more than communicators; they are friends and mentors. As with any human relationship, the intangibles are what make it strong.  Voice and tone, emotional resonance and point of view combine to make the experience just feel different to the reader, even when another site is covering the same topics.

The power of these relationships is crucial to native advertising -- and yet surprisingly, marketers sometimes fight to dilute the very thing that they valued in the first place.  I’m referencing the frequent scenario where advertisers and agencies try to override the very editorial experts that they’ve partnered with on a native content project.  They rewrite headlines, force language and imagery; add in cumbersome product-speak, and more.  That’s OK, some will argue, because the advertiser is the one footing the bill.  True, but it is the media company who is held responsible for the performance of the content.  When voice is lost, the audience can tell.

Many publishers are also to blame.  They create separate teams and separate processes for branded content, assuring their clients that separate is somehow equal.  Without bringing that content back through the editorial process, it loses the site’s authentic voice.  Consumers expect a single level of quality, a single voice from a media brand.

Social has exacerbated this issue because that is where voice matters most.  If I took your Facebook password and started posting, your friends would quickly realize it wasn’t you.  Yet publishers are regularly asked to cut and paste client-scripted posts. 

Voice matters.  For native advertising to work well, it can’t just look like the rest of the content on the page. It has to feel like it, too.  This requires a deeper partnership between the advertiser and media partner, and it requires a deeper trust.  And trust is exactly why media brands matter.

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