As it turns out, native advertising and content marketing (AKA branded content) aren’t the same thing, although these two forms of online ads try to achieve different things through similar methodologies.
The problem right now, as advertising and marketing becomes increasingly content-driven, is the two terms are being used interchangeably when they aren’t, in fact, synonymous. As more and more brands start to think and act like publishers, it’s high time the air was cleared.
At first glance, native advertising consists of content that appears to provide value to readers, but its real purpose is to sell a product or service. It’s usually restricted to more traditional ad formats – digitally speaking, think newspaper advertorial in the form of a sponsored Facebook story or tweet, a sponsored online article, a promoted post on Tumblr, or an ad containing content that would appear to be associated with search engine marketing that appears within a traditional ad space/position as designated by the IAB.
The advertorial (let’s call it what it is) may help readers to solve a problem that involves using the brand’s product or service as a solution. Branded content, on the other hand, is built to provide readers with intrinsic value. In sum, native advertising uses audience-tailored content that solves a problem by encouraging a purchase.
Clicks and position
“I see native advertising as close to an advertising message and I see that as different from content advertising,” says Doug Kelly, Publisher/Managing Director of Strategic Content Labs. “It’s in prescribed formats and spaces. What I believe to be native advertising, and what I see in these spaces, is content, but it’s very close to a transaction. The world that I’m more in is content marketing and there is a much larger journey from reading the content to actually taking part in the transaction. Native advertising’s advantage is its position and it’s always there. The level of engagement with the material, or the resulting click-throughs is, perhaps, a different story.”
Despite their differences, both native advertising and content marketing have come to the fore these days for the same reasons: tech, resulting in an exponential increasing in media clutter, and changing consumer attitudes towards content. Kelly witnessed the change happening first-hand in his previous life as first Editor-in-Chief then Publisher of the National Post. He saw the explosion of smartphones and mobile devices create new audiences and brands gain the ability to, for the first time, speak directly to communities of interest, using metrics and targeting to find them where they reside on the web and social.
“The younger generation is less ‘church and state’ about [branded content]“
Cutting through the noise
“The media universe is becoming increasingly cluttered and people are consuming media – and by that I broadly mean content, advertising and everything in between – very differently,” says Kelly. “Their attitude towards it is changing, and in terms of cutting through the noise, something that’s actually valuable or meaningful to someone is a great way of getting your brand through it all.”
For brands, therein lies the strategic relevance of executing native advertising: It works because it helps cut through the media noise. It should be based on engagement and with the growing importance of data it allows you to speak directly to a defined demographic.
These days, people just don’t seem to care if content has a commercial component, they just care about whether or not it’s good. Good content, regardless of its source, cuts through clutter like a hot knife through butter and that’s only going to become more apparent as time marches on. As Kelly says, “The younger generation is less ‘church and state’ about this thing, but I think people’s attitudes in general are changing.”
Being transparent in branded content
Of course, it’s within that attitudinal change that native content finds its most profound challenge. People might not care about the commerciality of the content, but they damn well do care if it’s pretending to be something it’s not. That said, it’s critical for brands to be transparent.
“I read a comment saying that transparency is the new objectivity,” says Kelly. “I thought that was an interesting way of looking at it. It’s becoming less required, or of interest, that something is what is classically described as objective and more important that it’s honest about it what it is.”
The second challenge for native advertising is to ensure quality over quantity, that it provides value to the consumer. Brands need to put less emphasis on a spray and pray approach and ensure that the content is meaningful.
“I think that a highly targeted campaign against a desired demographic is probably going to be much more valuable than the sort of broad brush approach,” says Kelly.
Expect native advertising to, generally speaking, become more sophisticated as it continues to evolve and, hopefully, overcomes the challenges that face it. Armed with meaning and backed by metrics, it can be a very useful tool indeed.