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Social media? That’s so last year, darling. Let’s go native.

29 May 2013  |  Greg Grimmer 
Greg.Grimmer(1)

Online display advertising has failed and in its wake comes Native Advertising - a term we'll all be using by 2014, we're assured. But there is much confusion outside of the US about what it even means, never mind having the know-how to pitch its use to a client. Never fear, because Greg Grimmer has a simpler explanation for what he says is the Next Big Thing.

"Native Advertising" is the new buzzword for everyone. Well, when I say everyone, I mean everyone Stateside. But believe me, we'll all be using it by the year-end.

But what exactly is Native Advertising? The next big thing in advertising? Or the natural culmination of a shift in power?

The best, but still by no means perfect explanation I've seen, was the excellent mashable article, here.

Unfortunately, the single sentence explanation would leave most UK media folk none the wiser - try selling this at your next client presentation:

"Native advertising refers to a specific mode of monetisation that aims to augment user experience by providing value through relevant content delivered in-stream."

I prefer a simpler explanation: it is advertising created for a specific type of consumer on a specific type of site at the most relevant time.

Think instead a subtle modern version of a print ad in the Daily Mail offering "Free for every Daily Mail reader" or a radio promotion offering "unmissable opportunity for a Kiss listener". In the Old World, good press advertorials - and even more so great relevant Radio S+P deals - were the forbearers of Native Advertising.

Why do we need Native Advertising? Well you tell me, dear reader, what is your favourite banner ad? When did you last share an MPU with a friend or a colleague?

Online display advertising has failed.

This is a chance not only for consumers to start enjoying online ads but also to make them have resonance beyond the screen.

Classified - and I include search in this definition - is clearly a rosier tale. Display, however, has consistently disappointed and 'the death of the banner' has been forecast for nearly as long as 'the year of mobile'.

Video - and especially viral video - was supposed to be the saviour of display but again it appears that it is in fact as popular as a visit to the Procurement department during an elongated pitch process.

Even the much abused term 'viral' is a misnomer; YouTube have a measure of 'viral' which equates to not many more impacts than a night time spot on Border TV.

Unruly Media have made a good stab at renaming Virals as "social video" but this still tends to take the consumer away from their in-stream consciousness and therefore lacks the relevance of traditional ad placement.

Over the last 15 years, online advertising has not just been guilty of failing to capture the imagination as taking our imaginations, smashing them up and then locking them away in a box called 'big data'.

Some US observers argue that promoted Tweets or Facebook Sponsored Stories are part of the native advertising landscape. I'm not convinced; we've spent lots of time talking about the value of social over the last seven or eight years and I prefer to keep that argument separate.

By far the most persuasive case for Native that I've seen has been the like of Buzzfeed's campaigns for Jet Blue airlines.

This is clearly marked as paid-for-advertising, yet entertains, captivates and encourages the reader to both join in and - crucially - share both the original 'ad' and their own relevant experience.

Buzzfeed is a site that grew up as a home for the funniest dancing dogs and cats on skateboard gifs - to wile away bored time at school/college/work. It is now fast becoming the go to news site in the US and is built around its founder Jonah Peretti's decade-long obsession with working out what we share and why we share things - crucially this now includes native ads on Buzzfeed.

A recent article in NYMag asks if they have finally found the secret to successful online ad formats. There are plenty who would agree with the timbre of this piece.

So, if the general rule of thumb is that in the UK we are 6-12 months behind the states in the take-up of digital media trends, we can expect every junior planner's PowerPoint deck for 2014 strategy to be full of recommendations to Go Native - and unlike previous digital fads (hands up if you recommended a Second Life Brand presence?) I would expect this one to not only succeed but also to prosper.

Why? Well, firstly the true powerhouses in the Marcomms community, the global media brands, have set themselves up to execute this type of media/creative mash-up perfectly.

The last few years have seen the likes of Zenith's NewCast, Starcom's Liquid Thread and more recently Mediacom's MBA (media beyond advertising) grow from being TV sponsorship departments partly responsible for helping devalue the traditional TV ad break, through usage of irritating five second idents, through to fully fledged multimedia creative thinking units looking to work with media owners to bring campaigns to life beyond conventional ads.

Ask any media agency CEO, from Darin Reuben at PHD extolling the virtues of Drum, to Steve Hatch at MEC praising MEC Access contribution to both creativity and margins. These departments are positively discriminated for good reason, and without attempting to be too mordacious in my critique of these units, their owners like them because...well, they win awards and make money.

Secondly, Native Advertising needn't only be controlled by the media agencies; all agencies from traditional advertising agencies, through PR, digital and sales promotion should be able to see the value in Native placement and good media owners will be able to both police activity, manage that tricky church/state divide and, crucially, deliver scale.

Perhaps the most decisive element in the future success of Native Advertising will be the involvement of clients. Every CMO or marketing person I've ever met always wants to stay close to the creative process - something that traditional advertising doesn't so much try to avoid as positively stops occurring.

The absolute collaborative nature of good Native Advertising seems to be what is attracting brands of the calibre of Coke, Nike and Toyota to Buzzfeed.

It is also this client interest that occurs in perhaps my favourite UK example of this type of partnership. Bauer Media's collaboration with O2 to create Go Think Big, a cross industry and cross media partnership that spans a number of Bauer's brands to create an intern programme for hard to access industries.

Not native advertising as perhaps defined by my online American friends at the beginning of this article, but one that nevertheless is successfully creating bespoke content for a specific audience.

Now I'm sure O2's agencies VCCP, ZenithOptimedia and Drum will be heavily involved in this endeavour, but you can bet your Native Advertising dollar it has also captured the eye of senior client management as well, especially as a certain Dave Cameron choose to tweet about it.

Advertising back at the top table? Could be if we choose to Go Native.

As always, an interesting piece by Greg. My questions would be do we have enough creative talent to produce material for all the spaces in all the media on all the technological platforms to really engage and communicate effectively? And who will fill this void and how?

Creatives only taught how to create that framed artefact called an 'ad', or PR, some of whom still think it is the 1980s (no offence David). Or a magic algorithm that only not matches content to consumer but creates it as well.

There is not enough Big Data at the individual level to do former properly, let alone the latter.

Vic Davies
Course Leader and Senior Lecturer
Bucks New University
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