Advertising is Content, Content is Advertising

When the term “native ad” started being talked about, the format was vaunted as the savior of online advertising. Consumers were using ad blocking software in increasing numbers and banner ad (display ad) conversion rates were plummeting.

Naturally, there was pushback about the fact that this mixing of editorial content and advertising made to look like editorial content would be, at best, confusing to consumers. And at worst deceptive.

Some, like the Fidelity ad on the cover of Forbes, caused a bit of stink.

But for the most part, they’ve manifested themselves in placements like this one from SolarCity on Yahoo’s home page. Seemingly part of the content of the page but called out just enough let the reader know that it isn’t pure content.

And it worked. Native ads are adding significantly to publisher’s bottom line.Even LinkedIn is cashing in on the format.

Native Ads With Content Marketing

To take it to the next level, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times teamed up with Netflix to create unique content-driven micro-sites. Both entities stressed that these were not journalistic pieces rather “ad collaborations”.

Yet the micro-sites have taken native advertising to new heights by marrying it with content. The initiatives have a serious news bend to them even though they are rooted entirely in the Netflix properties

In the case of The New York Times, the Orange is the New Black based sitedealt with the serious issue of women’s prisons and how they are run. But even the URL has “paidpost” in it. Likewise The New York Times’ site that was built around the show Narcos and delved into the history of Pablo Escobar has “ad” as part of the URL.

Into the apps and beyond

In app ads have evolved beyond small banner ads. Here “native” has more to do with integrating into the experience. No longer intrusive, the ad “units” are obvious and opt-in. The design of the units handshake with the experience of the app so well that people want to use them.

Snapchat

Snapchat recently rolled out sponsored lenses wherein snappers can augment their shots with characters or other branded content. Among the first to buy this lens “placement” was the movie “Peanuts” to coincide with the movie’s debut around Halloween. It may not be ideal for all brands, nor is it really a direct response property, but it is a great place for a brand play that integrated with the product experience.

Vessel

This 5 second ad unit created in-house at Vessel (the app that gives early access to original YouTube videos) dances perfectly on the line of noticeable yet still fitting the format of the experience. They’re not strictly native ads but it makes a great case for re-thinking the ad unit from the ground up.

YouTube Red

YouTube’s recent announcement of their low cost subscription channel, Red, promises “no ads.” It’s a literal interpretation of “ads” as it stands today since they are going to partner with content creators to have advertising as part of the product. Think of it as a cross between a live radio read and product placement. It remains to be seen how people will react to seeing non-ads in the content they’ve paid to access. My guess would be that at most, it will illicit a shrug. They will also have sponsored programs. Not only are they sponsored, they will include ads featuring the characters and the product will be woven into the story lines. It is by far the biggest integration between content and ad that’s out there.

Even TV is getting in on the action

Not to be left out in the cold, TV is getting in on the native trend. Sure, you could argue they were the vanguard of native advertising back in the 40s/50s when TV was live and marketers would pay actors do live ads while still on set. But until recently, advertising on TV has been based on interruption. Now there is some rumbling about changing that.

VICE

Vice recently announced that they are launching a cable channel, Viceland, in collaboration with A&E. In the announcement they promised to “re-imagine commercials.” Given their success in re-imagining the TV news show, it looks like they may take the same approach as Vessel and integrate the ad unit with the content experience rather than keep it as a standard interruption.

Drunk History

Lastly, we have a different kind of native ad from the show Drunk History. If you’re not familiar with Drunk History, it’s a comedy show wherein people get drunk, tell a historical story which is pretty amusing in itself but it is also acted out literally by actors in period costumes as the story unfolds. It’s pretty funny if you haven’t seen it. In this bumper the host and the “featured guest” play a video game, Assassin’s Creed, while drunk of course. After which an actual commercial for the video game plays. It’s not part of the show yet it’s not really a full-blown ad either.

So, what’s next?

I’m keen on seeing what happens to advertising in the the following two areas. One is short-term, the other much longer-term.

1/Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
What’s interesting about this area is that these both are rooted in what our perception of reality today. Will companies like Magic Leap and Occulusmerely swap out billboards for example? Or will they create “living entities” that act as advertisements themselves?

2/IoT (Internet of Things)
We may a bit off from this reality but eventually the Internet will not be a place. It will be a layer of everyday life. When that’s the case, a UI can be anywhere and anything. And when that happens, what will an “ad” look, feel, even smell like?

No matter what, advertising, in some form, will continue to exist. At least now creativity is being applied to the advertising units themselves. How they integrate as opposed to disrupting our lives.