Can Brand And Tactical Native Advertising Coexist?

Of all the publications heavily involved in native advertising, the one I wouldn't have expected to tell brands to be more "salesy" is The Guardian. But there you have it in The Drum today -- Adam Foley, commercial strategy director, telling an audience at an IAB UK event that brands must not shy away from selling. Although the usual advice is not to mention the brand and not to force a message on the public, he says there is no point doing native unless you are open about trying to sell something.

I know some of the guys at The Guardian and the ethos I have seen so far appears to be one of offering brands an opportunity to sponsor discussions around topics, such as digital media or business issues, which are pertinent to their audiences. The typical approach is the brands do not get mentioned, other than through an acknowledgement they are sponsoring the content, and neither do their arch rivals. Presumably Foley sees more opportunity in a more sales-led approach? Perhaps the sponsorship approach is to be joined by a harder pitch around ROI?

Indeed, at the IAB UK event yesterday there were reported disagreements between panellists on metrics. Yahoo was at pains to point out that softer metrics around brand favourability and consideration are at least as good an indication of success as short-term figures based on clicks and shares. Again, Foley is reported to have laid out a more commercial line, of the only metric a business wants to hear is how the bottom line was improved.

So who is right? Should native be about making the public like you through very subtle brand mentions that could be just a logo surrounding articles on a topic related to your business? Or does it need to be a "roll up, roll up" approach where the ultimate intent to sell products and services is laid bare?

This may sound like a cop out, but I believe both models can coexist. Brands will always think long term around how people think of them and will be keen to keep favourability and purchase intent boiling away through longer-term engagement. At the same time, they will always want to sell products and services with a very clear message their latest offering can be bought with the click of a mouse.

So it's not an either or. Just as advertising is split between brand and tactical campaigns, it's entirely reasonable to expect to see the same twin approach applied to properly-labelled native. Laying the ground work and then clinching the deal are all what the digital marketing funnel, leading to a sales opportunity, is all about. You can't just start off with the sale -- people need a bit of longer-term wooing too.

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