The final (for now) instalment in a series of cross-posts of some of the monthly tech columns we’ve written for Marketing magazine over the course of the year. This article on native advertising appeared in Marketing’s April issue.
A wise agency head recently told me that, statistically, a person is more likely to die in an airplane crash than click on a banner ad. Not least because I’m writing this month’s column on a long haul flight to San Francisco (where I’ve been lucky enough to be invited by a client to spend the week immersed with them at Google’s Creative Academy), this is something I’m hoping not to be true.
It is certainly the case that display ads are woefully ineffective, just witness the average CTR of a banner ad: at 0.2% in 2012 (from 9% in 2000, in case you’re wondering). Indeed, the death of display advertising has been declared so many times over the past decade or so, it’s astonishing it still has a pulse.
And yet, it’s a sure-fire truth that when anyone declares the death of anything, it’s how often that thing shape-shifts and re-surfaces, alive and well, in a different form (check out one of my favourite articles of all time, ‘The Tragic Death of Practically Everything’ here).
In the case of display, witness the inexorable rise of Native advertising.
Most jargon makes my blood run cold, but this is a term I increasingly like for a couple of reasons:
1. The term evokes a sense of belonging and integrity; an opportunity for a brand to show an understanding of natural platform behaviours and a concern with user experience that isn’t associated with traditional display advertising nearly enough.
2. It is one way publishers and media owners may manage to monetize their online platforms effectively, without sacrificing user experience.
In short, the user, the brand and the media owner all stand to win. It’s that combination which makes Native advertising worth paying attention to.
What native advertising is
Relevant, paid-for content that appears within the editorial stream of a publisher’s site or social network. Current examples include: promoted tweets on Twitter, ads in search, sponsored stories on Facebook, Tumblr Spotlight, promoted videos on YouTube, paid-for editorial content. It’s where publishing, PR and creative content meet.
What it isn’t
‘Understanding natural platform behaviours’ does not mean producing wallpaper. The very best Native advertising is thought-provoking, creative, even disruptive; witness BBH’s work for the domestic abuse charity, Refuge, featuring the YouTube star, Lauren Luke. Nor is it content that pretends to be genuine editorial. No user likes the brand that duped them by presenting commercial content in an editorial environment, with no demarcation from the publisher’s content or link to the brand involved.
Some thoughts on briefing native advertising
1. Native advertising is a (paid-for) means to an end, not an end in its own right. Its role might to recruit new users or kick-start an offer or initiative. As such, it’s more a sign-post on a connected path or story, not pure branded content per se. Simple things like including a call to action or a useful link back to the brand can be overlooked, but are critical to progressing an interested user’s journey.
2. It’s equally important we make sure the team involved knows what constitutes natural behaviour on a given platform and respects it. Etiquette and UX, both crucial at the best of times, are disproportionately important here.
3. Silo-ed organisations won’t fare well here. Look for the people who demonstrate they see the whole picture: they care deeply about user experience, have a strong grasp of your brand voice and the nuances of the different, constantly evolving platforms.
Who knows, perhaps display isn’t dead, it’s just gone native.