‘Native advertising’ – a brand new technique that’s been around forever

Native advertising – a brand new technique that’s been around forever

As happens from time to time, the advertising industry has welcomed a brand new buzzword to the fold. It seems people are getting more than a little excited about the term ‘native advertising’ – which means it’s probably coming to a meeting room near you.

In recent weeks, I’d heard mention of this supposedly new approach to online marketing in a couple of different places. To be honest, more than anything else this left me a little frustrated with some of the ambiguous and unnecessarily extravagant language that seemed to surrounding the subject. Native advertising, from what I could gather, was about positioning high quality content in ways that felt seamless to the viewer which, it was suggested, would make it a more powerful and engaging proposition. It all sounded impressive. But I couldn’t help but ask myself – isn’t that just what good marketing is about anyway?

Having decided to try and find out more, I happened upon an article for Spin Sucks, in which Gini Dietrich talked about native advertising as something that would change the way communicators – particularly in an online environment – would need to work in the future. The approach, she suggested, didn’t chime with the traditional media techniques because it was more about organic engagement. As people are now familiar with banner ads, behavioral targeting and sponsored articles, it was essential for content to feel like it “belongs there”, as this would encourage comments, likes and shares.

Picking up on Dietrich’s piece, Jennifer Leggio wrote in an article for Forbes that in fact there was very little new about native advertising and there were a number of successful examples that had been around since 2006. She explained smart marketers already knew the importance of implementing messages in a way that complemented the user experience, but added that some were even integrating this into their social media strategies. Leggio concluded by offering an alternative word for the method and one which, as a writer, I personally feel much more comfortable with – “contextual”.

In a podcast for entreproducer.com, the idea that native advertising was nothing new was expanded even further. In fact, it was put forward that these were the very fundamentals of advertising that dated back to a golden age where pioneers like David Ogilvy would use powerful, engaging content to attract consumers in a way that didn’t make them feel like they were being sold something. The hosts added that this kind of forward thinking had opened up the industry and created valuable lessons that were as valid today as they ever were.

In 2012, MEC ran a campaign for Olympus for the launch of its PEN Mini camera. The client had experienced a great deal of success targeting a certain demographic for its range of digital photography technology. But as an agency, MEC felt this new product was a great opportunity to push Olympus into a different kind of market. A great deal of time was spent working closely with the client, as well as the advertising platforms identified as key to these potential customers, with bespoke content produced that was designed to blend with the space surrounding it. Stylistically and editorially, MEC knew the right thing to do was to focus on the content and the context. In short, it worked beautifully.

I guess the moral of the story is, while it pays to keep on top of the latest advertising trends, from time to time you may find there’s more than a whiff of the emperor’s new clothes about them. That’s not to say native advertising is in itself an absolute nonsense. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. But just maybe, every now and then, it’s worth asking if the latest industry buzzword is, in fact, an old friend you knew under a different name. Like ‘intuition’.

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