Going Native


When I first heard the term “native advertising,” I assumed it had to do with villagers from a Tarzan movie handing out flyers to an upcoming missionary roast. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it merely referred to advertising that lives symbiotically with content in a digital format.


But, apparently, effective.

We’ve all known of the advertorial format for decades. It looks like content in a magazine, but is really a long-winded plug for a product or service. Most were (and are) labeled as Advertorial or something similar, so caveat emptor.

In the digital realm, native advertising can be Advertorial-like, but more often takes the form of sponsorships. I think of radio shows preceded or followed by the mention of a company. Facebook, Buzzfeed and many other sites are filled with these kinds of sponsorships.

Some native ads are a bit sneakier. These are ad messages that lurk in disguise among content of a similar nature. Here’s an example from a website with links to (mostly) user-created videos. Two rows of thumbnail photos with titles present eight options. Among them are morsels, such as a blurry group of people titled “Horrible Focus Group” (very tempting) and a mother with infant titled “The Apocalypse” (promises cute and chaotic). The last in line, seeming to be just one more in the lineup, is the photo of a hamburger resembling a Big Mac but titled mysteriously, “Mouthopia” (what might this be?) While the link is tagged below with the word, “AD,” someone in a state of Click-Thru ecstasy might not notice and then…D’oh! They’ve been duped into a McDonald’s video (an entertaining one, I must admit).

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen an even more insidious “native.” An item will show up in your page feed suspiciously tagged with names of your friends but leads to an advertiser. Bad Facebook!

Does this ad sleight of hand work? Presumably, but I’ve yet to see it quantified. Is it a good reflection on a brand? Depends on how devious the placement is, I suppose.

Personally, I like messaging that looks like an ad, talks like an ad, and is comfortable in its ad gender orientation. I’m sure native advertising is here to stay and will appear in many variations. I just wish they’d call it something else.

I still hear “native advertising” and think “Dances with McDonald’s.” I dunno.

– John Graham, Copy Director @ Creative Dimensions