Originally written for the Global Academy of Digital Marketing back in 2013, this post explaining native advertising seems to have disappeared, so I thought I’d repost it here. Let me know what you think.

Remember when social media was being hailed as “the next big thing” in digital marketing? It wasn’t very long ago… but social has certainly evolved quickly in the interim and now plays a central role in the digital strategy of most brands.

Today the hot “new” topics in the digital marketing world are “content marketing” and “native advertising”. You can tell they’re new, because when you ask people about them they don’t really seem to know what they mean. They’ll huff and they’ll puff, they’ll throw around the latest trendy jargon, but more often than not you won’t get a straight answer. That’s bleeding edge, for sure!

But of course like so many things digital, the concepts we’re talking about here aren’t new at all. They simply reflect the application of tried and tested marketing strategies to established and emerging digital media. They’re old ideas used in novel ways to help brands and businesses reach more people.

When old becomes new

There are plenty of examples… but let’s take a look at social media.

When social media began its stratospheric rise it was hailed as a revolution for marketers — it was new, it was shiny, it was interactive… it meant we could have real conversation with the people who mattered most — our customers.

It was going to be awesome!

All that is true — and social media was and still is awesome — but at its core it’s simply about people communicating with other people and sharing what they believe is relevant, interesting information. People have always done that… using whatever media and platforms were available to them at the time.

The advent of social media simply offered people more avenues and opportunities to keep doing the things people have always done. Yes the scale of the interaction (and thus the opportunity for marketers) rose exponentially; suddenly you could talk to and share stuff with anyone, anywhere, anytime; but the fundamental underlying concept stayed the same.

It’s the same thing with content marketing — content marketing has been around forever, give or take a few years. When a brand publishes useful content in a magazine or newspaper, or on its own website, that’s content marketing. When a business creates a “how to” flyer to help people fit their widget or get better performance from their new sprocket-gizmo, that’s content marketing.

Content isn’t the next big thing in marketing — because content has ALWAYS been the current big thing in marketing. Offline, online, above the line, below the line… right the way down to the bottom line, it’s content that adds the value.

Which brings us neatly to native advertising… which also hinges on, you guessed it, great content.

Native Advertising and the radical concept of adding value

Native advertising has emerged from the shadows as a hot topic today for a very simple reason. It’s because interruptive advertising doesn’t work very well.

We HATE interruptions. They get in the way, disrupt our train of thought and stop us doing what we really want to do — and let’s face it there are few interruptions more infuriating than the pre-roll video ad. Who on earth came up with the idea notion that putting a “brand message” between me and the content I want to consume was a good idea?

A study by Nielsen Group and Sharethrough on the effectiveness of native video advertising compared to more “traditional” video pre-roll ads backs up that common sense assertion. Not only did native video ads trump pre-roll in terms of effectiveness (in one case a non-alcoholic beverage brand experienced an 82% lift in brand favourability from users exposed to native video ads, compared to just 2.1% brand lift for users exposed to pre-roll), but the users exposed to pre-roll ads were almost 30% more likely to express negative brand sentiment following their experience.

So native advertising, done properly can very effective. But it’s not new.

Native advertising has been happening for centuries in one form or another: brand sponsorship underpinned print, radio and TV content for many years. “Soap operas” are a prime example… a label spawned from P&G’s sponsorship of radio and TV dramas from the 1930s onwards. In 1946 Procter and Gamble created a special “Entertainment” division with the express purpose of “creating original content that enables the company to connect with consumers and advertise its brands”. If that’s not native content advertising I don’t know what is!

Today you’ll commonly find sponsored content, advertorials, special supplements and all kinds of brand-facilitated content across all kinds of media, promoting everything from travel destinations to tooth-paste.

Understanding people and giving them what they need

Done properly native advertising offers marketers an opportunity to reach people where they are already engaging with content, without disrupting the flow of their user experience. Effective native advertising sits seamlessly into the digital landscape the user has chosen to navigate, it is perfectly aligned with the user experience of the host platform in terms of style and substance, and far from disrupting the user’s progress towards their goal, effective native advertising helps them to achieve it.

Those are both important concepts, so it’s worth emphasising them:

  1. effective native advertising sits seamlessly into the digital landscape the user is navigating.
  2. effective native advertising is brand sponsored content focussed on adding genuine value for the end user rather than pushing a brand message.

The real trick in creating effective native advertising is striking that elusive balance between focusing on user value and delivering on a brand’s commercial goals. When native advertising is done well though, everybody wins: brands win through enhanced opportunities to engage with consumers, boost brand perception and ultimately drive sales; publishers win through additional streams of relevant, useful content (and of course revenue streams) to their platforms; and perhaps most importantly of all, consumers win through relevant, value-added content that enhances rather than disrupts their user experience.

For a high-level overview on native advertising in a nutshell, check out this handy infographic from the folks at Solve Media… and don’t forget to let us know what you think of the trend towards native advertising in the comments below.

Native Media infographic from Solvemedia

Native Media infographic from Solvemedia