Native advertising: con or quid pro quo?

  • Media
  • February 23, 2015
  • Alex Lawson
Native advertising: con or quid pro quo?

Media agencies are increasingly using editorial tricks to spread their clients’ advertising messages. So is native advertising a con? Alex Lawson doesn’t think so. 

Native advertising? Content marketing? Paid content? Whatever you want to call it, it’s here and media agencies are using it.

The ZO Touchpoints ROI Tracker, a global tool of over 800 client studies that ranks the influence of channels, consistently shows owned and earned channels deliver significantly higher levels of product consideration and purchase influence than paid. And native gets us into those channels in a relevant, in-depth fashion through paid media.

Modern programmatic methods allow more ways than ever to distribute content, whether it’s through client-owned channels such as web or Facebook, trading desks such as ZO’s ‘Audience on Demand’, or third parties like Unruly, Outbrain or Buzzfeed.

Rewind a few years and the goal for many agencies was to get brand editorial coverage or advertorials with ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertising feature’ plastered over them. We needed to trick the end user, disguise the marketing message or they’d be onto us sneaky bastards!

The line between church and state (editorial/advertising) was fiercely guarded. But that was a time when consumers actually paid for news content and you couldn’t get it 24 hours a day at the click of a mouse. If you wanted to know what was going on you either needed to buy a copy of a newspaper or tune in at the anointed hours to get your fix. Everyone was making bonus!

Those times have changed. Every publisher or broadcaster now offers some form of native package, searching to monetise their biggest asset: content. These take many forms: the traditional advertorial, content-related ad packages, bespoke editorial articles or filmed content broadcast in isolation or connection to shows.

Consumers have also changed. They will still avoid ads, but they also understand that there are times when some give and take is necessary to get the desired ‘free’ legal content. 

Is this still just a big con though? Are we still pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes and being sneaky bastards? 

I don’t think so. If it’s a fair exchange of interesting, valuable content in return for marketing intrusion then I’m good with it and I’m going to use it. This is nothing new. Red Bull has for years created content that their consumers want while inserting their brand into it hoping we may think of Red Bull when we want a thirst-quenching energy drink. Their content is viewed, shared and enjoyed millions of times every day and yet it’s still essentially an ad.

Our campaign for Steinlager Pure, ‘Born to Defy’, is a great example of modern content marketing. The consumer gets a piece of content we think they’ll enjoy—a Kiwi breaking an extreme world record, free-diving to 102m live on TV. At the same time we communicate our brand messages and values through cross-platform native pieces that give our audience interesting and topical information on the sport and the record attempt. It’s a value exchange.  

At all times we’re upfront with our audiences. We didn’t shy away from the fact that it’s an advertising campaign. The brand has been present throughout but the content that we’ve put out has value to our audience. There are multiple pay offs. New Zealand gets a chance to get another world record; you may know a bit more about free-diving than before; and if you grab a box of Steinlager Pure instead of a box of Heineken at the shelf, then we’ve done our job. Hopefully, we added a little value to you in the process.  

This vision is shared at all levels of the ZO global family. You only have to look at our global planning philosophy www.ownedfirst.com to see that. We’re not moving away from traditional reach campaigns just yet, but they will continue to be augmented by content marketing to establish the perfect balance of reach vs. engagement. Storytelling to improve brand experiences is a key part of our thinking.

So, was this article an opinion piece or a piece of content marketing for ZenithOptimedia? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe I’m just still one of those sneaky bastards. Regardless, I hope that it was interesting, raised a few discussions and maybe you’ll knock on our door at some point.

Finally, if you have a spare 11 minutes, I highly recommend that you watch HBO’s John Oliver espouse his funny, if broadly sweeping, views on native advertising on YouTube. It’s well worth a watch.

  • Alex Lawson is group business director at ZenithOptimedia Auckland. alex.lawson@zenithoptimedia.co.nz
  • This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb edition of NZ Marketing. 

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