Finding the native advertising sweet spot

  • Opinion
  • March 31, 2015
  • John Baker
Finding the native advertising sweet spot

I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Jane Cherrington, courtesy of The Briefing   a couple, of weeks ago. The topic was 'Customer Centricity' and it got me thinking a bit more deeply about the developing discipline of content in the marketing and communications mix.

Debate has raged over the last few years around 'native advertising'. Is it really new? Is it just advertorial dressed up in new digital clothes? Is it just trickery to get audiences clicking where banners ads are failing? Is it an example of marketers trying to subvert genuine audience engagement with editorial brands and by default threatening to damage the engagement they are trying to harness? The answers would be no, kind of, sometimes, potentially.

The problem with advertising led 'native' as I see it, and coming back to my introduction is that it is typically not customer centric. It is more often just long-form advertising. The Emperor’s new clothes.

Let’s assume the channel planning has been done. Any decent content strategy (let’s include native), must start with audience need. The question we should start with is 'how can I add meaningful value?', typically defined by something they care deeply about, delivered in a contextually appropriate way and aligned authentically to brand attributes.

This approach requires a more journalistic than an advertising copywriting one and, as a result, the skills to deliver the best examples of this tend to exist within media owners: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Onion and Buzzfeed to mention just a few.   

This explains, in part, why many marketers are working directly with media owners on content-led briefs and also why agencies more recently have taken a much more collaborative approach to content execution. It is also why I am somewhat sceptical about programmatic native.   

Putting native aside, the best examples of ‘customer-centric marketing’ aka ‘content marketing’ can be found in the area of owned media—something that is enjoying explosive growth and as a result responsible for significant client budget shift from paid advertising.  


Where native, by definition, relies on the use of existing distribution channels, owned media is based on having a direct and meaningful content-led relationship with clearly defined audience segments. The purpose of which is typically not shift market share as the prime motivation, but to drive demand and grow category. Market share shift typically follows and particularly so, in my opinion, when integrated into the overall communications mix. 

It is no surprise to me then that brands who adopt and invest seriously and appropriately in owned media are typically category leaders and more likely to be devotees of customer centricity.   

  • John Baker is a publisher and the director of content marketing at ICG

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