John Oliver talking on native advertising

Why don’t we talk about native advertising?

If you’re a marketer, you have to be living under a rock not to have heard about John Oliver’s recent takedown of native advertising. Not only did I think it was hilarious, but I also agreed with a great deal of what he said. After all, I’m not just a marketer, I’m also a consumer.

Back in the days of yore, native advertising was known (more accurately, I think) as the advertorial, which worked quite well in print. The word itself tells you what it is, particularly because it begins with “advert”. However, the term native advertising or the equally obtrusive branded content tends to muddy the waters a bit.

Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report found that that is indeed the case:

  • 49 percent of respondents don’t know what native advertising is
  • 24 percent are hardly familiar with it
  • Another 24 percent are somewhat familiar
  • Only 3 percent are very knowledgeable

And that, according to Oliver, is the whole problem.

I wondered what the native advertising experts’ reaction would be to Oliver’s rant. Sure enough, they had one. A piece in Business Week provided a bit of insight. Dan Greenberg, the founder and chief executive officer of Sharethrough, said, “I was actually really happy to see it. I thought one of the cool parts about it was the almost unspoken acceptance of the inevitability of native advertising as a viable long-term form of monetization.” He has a point there. Because it does, in fact, work.

For B2B marketers, the biggest challenge is creating content that prospects truly want to consume. Greenberg believes that is the heart of the issue. “What’s actually happening here is that the business side of the world has realized that to survive in the long run, they need to create quality, authentic, real content.”

Well, I think we can all agree with him on that one. But if, as Oliver suggests, no one knows what native advertising is, and no one can recognize it in context, that’s kind of a boon for marketers, right?

Well, yes, actually. But if it’s going to be effective, it needs to be done well. When searching for examples of outstanding native advertising, everyone comes back to David Ogilvie and The Guinness Guide to Oysters.

More accurately described as an advertorial, the ad first appeared in 1950. So, no, native advertising is NOT a new concept. But what makes it so good that we’re still referencing it more than 60 years later?

Brian Clark, CEO of Copyblogger, tells us, and offers three quick keys to doing native advertising right in the context of 21st century media and marketing:

  1. Authenticity. The content of your native ad must match the context of the overall editorial “feel” of the site it appears on. And that’s true, but it’s only half the story. Choose media outlets with editorial approaches that mirror your own brand voice.
  2. Action. The Internet is a direct response medium, and a native ad is a direct response advertisement. Your message must be geared toward getting the prospect to take some form of action right then and there.
  3. Audience. You’re not pitching products or services, you’re promising more valuable information that results in audience building. Case studies show that getting people to opt-in for an educational content approach results in higher conversion rates. Keeping them engaged over time naturally leads to more sales.

David Ogilvie said, “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about fifty percent more readers.”

Sorry, Mr. Oliver, but I’m going with Mr. Ogilvie on this.

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