Native Advertising: Is now the winter of dissed content?

10 Sep 2013  |  Greg Grimmer 
Greg.Grimmer(1)

There has been a lot of confusion in the UK about Native Advertising, and, despite its obvious - and less obvious - benefits, there is already a backlash growing. Here, Greg Grimmer digests the arguments and explains what we need to do to make it work.

Earlier this year I wrote a column about 'Native advertising' in which I forecast that the latest US trend would be lingua franca in agencies over here quicker than you could say Integrated Total Media Communication Solutions.

The feedback I received after it was published quite took me aback - it seemed that indeed I was right on the Zeitgeist.

But alas, it appears that the backlash has started before this trend really got going. A recent article in AdAge made the same point I alluded to earlier this year.

'Native' is, of course, just another modern term for advertorials or sponsorship and promotion. The writer is clearly not a fan but also is clearly not a media planner trying to formulate the latest plan for a brand manager anxious not only to have a bit of digital 'gold dust' on his plan but also some bespoke content that hasn't been produced by some far flung creative agency forced down a lowest common denominator route.

The beauty of content created specifically for an individual media is that it speaks to the reader, viewer or listener in a voice that is both expected and, if executed well, indistinguishable from the editorial that surrounds it.

Any media planner worth their salt will only put a media brand on to a plan if they think it is going to have resonance with the audience consuming that media channel, unfortunately for them this perfect placement can sometimes be diminished by poor quality or out of kilter creative messaging.

Add to this the modern day fact-of-life that the media planner and the copywriter will almost undoubtedly be working for different P+L's and are unlikely to have ever met, let alone created a joined up strategy, and you can start to understand why the media agency might want to work directly with the chosen media channel rather than bring in a third party.

However, perhaps this is why my tired (or brilliant) Shakespearean pun at the top of the page is still a little worrying. Media agencies can not afford, nor do they want to start employing 'creatives' - therefore media owners will need to invest in more talent within their creative solutions departments to not only sell this type of work but also to create it.

We don't want to be left with poor quality ideas read by no one and watched by even fewer - and there isn't a shortage of content out there these days so if brands are going to get involved in creation it needs to be equal or better than the editorial product that they go head to head with. There are numerous examples of etiolated branded content that have been born but never created.

The other issue is talent; the boys at Gravity Road are top-notch experts in this field - commercial and yet extremely creative. Mark Wood, ex of Sky, has a decent business and a great mind but it is generally an over supplied and underwhelming marketplace in the hinterland of agency life.

I wrote previously about the incipient presence of branded content divisions such as Newcast at Zenith and Invention at Mindshare, and these divisions do attract clients that seem to be happy to pay a premium to get real service from their agencies and bespoke content from their media owner partners.

However, I was interested by another stateside article, this one from Ad Week, that struck a chord with my sense that 'content' can and should mean more than quickly scribed product specification lists.

The article makes the apposite point so missed by many of those Charlatans that reside in branded content agencies: distribution is as crucial, if not more so, than the curation and creation of content.

If you are going to align your brand with music and are creating content to amplify that association make sure you go to Vevo or Spotify to provide the scale to spread that content. If sport is going to be your thing then Sky or Talksport can aid you in your mission. If film or cinema than use Empire or Pearl and Dean to give credibility to your distribution strategy.

Don't expect the Kevin Costner field of dreams effect - "build it and they will come" - it ain't gonna happen to Native advertising however good it is. The paid-for exposure will remain crucial to even the most modern messages - which happens to be good news to probably everyone reading this.

Perhaps the best exponents of using their own content - but without forgetting the need to cough up ad dollars as well - are the film distribution companies. The other entertainment sectors, gaming and latterly record labels, also seem to be able to consistently get the balance right. However, having recently judged some global media awards there is still some work to be done, especially in the field of B2B and, strangely, Automotive.

Having mangled the words of the Bard to start with - I shall end with an unexpurgated quote, which we should all take into our next branded content conversation.

"Boldness be my friend"

Just don't forget to be bold with the budget as well; Bill never did anything on the cheap.

"If you are going to align your brand with music and are creating content to amplify that association make sure you go to Vevo or Spotify to provide the scale to spread that content" - I'd be interested to see the audience stats that suggest that Vevo or Spotify are best placed to deliver scale of audience for music-related content.

Alternatively, people seeking serious scale for their content (i.e. more than 4% of the population) may decide to consider commercial radio instead!

Mark Barber
Planning Director
RAB

Mark makes a good point and as a long time supporter of radio in my columns one that I'm happy to add to - I did refer to great Radio S+P as the forbearer to Native ads in my first piece. But Mark's point is well made, Global or Bauer are equally justifiable recipients of "paid" investment for brands aligning to music content, especially if that investment includes branded content via their digital and social channels.

Where perhaps he does need to alert his stakeholders is the scale now offered by the digital music brands VEVO and Spotify - who at last count had 255 million and 24 million users worldwide, respectively - both offering reach and scale to brands wanting to get closer to music.

Greg Grimmer
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Guy Cookson, Co-Founder and CMO, Respond on 8 Oct 2013
“I think what sometimes gets lost in the debate about how to define native advertising, or what qualifies as native, or why native is even worth considering compared to standard paid ad slots, is that we're trying to solve a bunch of problems here. The problem is most people, most of the time, are not paying the slightest bit of attention to advertising online. At best it's an easily ignorable feature of web pages, off in the margins, tone deaf to it's surroundings. At worst it's a nuisance, an unwanted interruption, an annoyance to bat away, or to block with Ad Block Plus (200 million downloads and counting). If advertisers are serious about winning hearts and minds, if publishers are serious about generating revenue without alienating their readers, if we all are serious about taking a step back and making things work, then we need to do things differently. We can't just repeat the same mistakes in new and and shinier ways. Eye-tracking studies show us that on desktop sites people focus their attention on where the content is, and that's especially true on sites they visit often. Near zero CTRs and non-existent purchase intent is the outcome of throwing more and more money at formats that just don't work. And mobile? There are no margins to stuff those ads into, and pixelated gif banners might get the budget out the door but they won't move the needle. Not really. Not ever. Native advertising is simply an acknowledgement that advertising needs to be placed where people look on the page, and it needs to look like it belongs to the page. Because if it doesn't, people look away. Native advertising, done right, is about placing a value on the environment people are in when they encounter an advertiser's message. It's about placing a value on the publisher's brand and content, because people are not users, they are not data, they are individuals that love to be informed and entertained and wowed. And if an advertisers can deliver a message that's contextually relevant and useful in a format that's noticed, in keeping with its surroundings, and not intrusive, everyone wins. It's not rocket science.”

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