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#SXSWinteractive: Moving Beyond the Buzz of Native Advertising

As communications evolves, there is a remarkable point at which a new communications strategy becomes so essential that it starts to show up everywhere. In the digital marketing and advertising sessions I attended at SXSW, that new strategy became abundantly clear: native advertising.
March 30, 2016
Moving Beyond the Buzz of Native Advertising

Unlike a lot of topics at SXSW, native advertising is not what’s next; it’s what’s right now. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is also referred to as sponsored content or promoted posts. No matter what you call it, let’s be real: Most people don’t know what it means – especially the brands and organizations that need to know.

Sharethrough, a leading native advertising software platform, defines native advertising as such:
“Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.” [Source]
Before we jump into examples of native advertising, we should establish some historical context.
Native advertising isn’t a new concept. It’s really just a new (and much more technologically savvy) iteration of advertorial. An advertorial takes the function of an advertisement and collides it with an editorial – hence the name. Advertorials started in the mid-1940s and saw their heyday in the 1950s and 60s. They employ the look and feel of an article and function in two main ways:
  1. Attempt to fool the reader into thinking this is just another article in a magazine so they read it with a less critical eye (i.e. the reader doesn’t realize he’s reading advertising messages)
  2. In the case a reader recognizes the piece as an ad, he’s still getting some interesting information or a story in the process.
As a bald man, I have to say one of my favorite examples of an advertorial is from the May 1962 issue of the publication Mechanix Illustrated.
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In the advertorial, the author tells his story of visiting the House of Feder, detailing the quality of the process and the product along with the life-changing decision to purchase a Feder toupee. I probably could have been convinced merely by this charming line, “Friends will soon forget you were ever denuded,” but the ad goes on for two more pages just in case you need further convincing.

That’s what native advertising looked like in the 1960s. So what does it look like now?

As native advertising continues to evolve, I see a further delineation of types of native content that fall into two categories: native advertising and native publishing. Of course, both are technically still advertising, but let’s look at two examples that highlight each approach.
Approach 1: Native Advertising
In the biz, we refer to these as “in-feed ad units.” A brand or organization creates content in the form of a web article, a top ten list, photography, video, etc. then purchases native ad space on a publication that already reaches the desired target audience for the ad. Here’s what this usually looks like:
Most readers would likely deduce that Samsung paid for the article below given the heavy-handedness of the promotion of the Galaxy S4 and due to the the legally required disclaimer that Samsung is a “Brand Publisher.” Even though it is clearly sponsored content, the article is still compelling enough to provide an interesting read for users and can help readers begin to feel a proclivity for the brand as they associate cool content, in this case photography, directly with the brand or product.
Buzzfeed Native Advertising
Approach 2: Native Publishing
What I consider “native publishing” is different from the previous example of native advertsing in that a brand works with a publisher to co-create content – from concept to final product. This approach results in content that fits even more seamlessly in the publication in which it appears. The lifestyle and fashion blog Camille Styles offers a good example of this.
Just at a glance, it would be difficult to identify which product is being advertised in the image below. And that’s part of the genius of this type of native content. By co-creating the content, Camille Styles and the brand Seventh Generation were able to strike a balance between the type of content that appeals to the blog’s audience – like baby clothes and gear – while at the same time getting the word out about their toxin-free, hypoallergenic diapers. The product is merely part of a wider topic that offers benefit to the readers of the blog.
The post includes the required sponsored content disclaimer, but in a way that is in the voice of the writer and much subtler than what we saw in Approach #1:
“We’re super excited to be kicking off a collaboration with Seventh Generation today — I’ve been a longtime fan of their plant-based cleaning and household products that are free of toxins and made from recycled materials. And nowhere are those qualities more important than in the base layer of all Henry’s most fashionable looks: his diaper!”
Of course, the words “his diaper” are hyperlinked to the Seventh Generation product page. However, positioning native advertising in a more authentic voice of a publisher as in this example is a powerful way to begin to forge a relationship, at times even an emotional connection, between customers and brands.

What Henry Wears Native Content

The “so what?”

As the effectiveness of traditional digital ads continues to decline and the number of people using ad blockers continues to rise, brands and organizations need to explore new ways to get their messages in front of the right audiences. This is as true for brands selling products as it is for nonprofits and foundations seeking to drive awareness and action on issues.
Native advertising offers an exciting opportunity for brands to innovate and forge partnerships with publishers to move beyond a click-through, instead establishing relationships with existing and potential customers or supporters.
Like this? Check out our other coverage from SXSW 2016:

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