Publishers, marketers and agency executives are still talking about native advertising, whether it's to say it's hype, hope, old wine in a new bottle, or some combination. We spoke with interactive shop veteran Adam Kleinberg, CEO of San Francisco's Traction, about the headaches and opportunities associated with native ads and whether this model can stand on its own as a branding vehicle or if it primarily needs to be part of a wider online/offline set of integrations.
AdExchanger: Online publishers have been debating the value of "native advertising" for a while now, asking if it's all just hype over what used to be called "advertorials" in print or sponsored posts on blogs. What's driving those conversations now and what do you think about the practice of making ads resemble editorial content?
ADAM KLEINBERG: I think "hype" is exactly the right word on native advertising. It's just like this notion of "big data." It’s one of those words that means everything and nothing at the same time, right? Everyone and their mother has picked up on these terms and are saying, "Oh! Because it's a hot thing, we have to look into this." If they're putting a logo on top of their regular content, it's just a sponsorship. And if it's integrated content from a marketer, let's call that native advertising. Publishers are competing with the true kind of native advertising being done by Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, which are really integrated, experiential types of things. It's especially important in mobile, as Facebook has been saying, because their minimally intrusive advertising is part of the overall experience.
How does Traction approach native advertising?
Our view is that everything should be integrated. It's not just like asking what kinds of content a marketer is going to publish on a particular day, but, also, what are the direct response initiatives? What is the timing of the product releases? What is the seasonal aspect of what we're communicating? It also includes looking at how we can efficiently create snackable content.
We just did something for one of our clients, California Bank and Trust, where we created an infographic that included a high level PR strategy. We partnered with the PR agency, did a release, and got 415 placements. That might not sound like a lot, when you think about how selling a sponsorship on a Buzzfeed post can get 200,000 views in a short time. But we think it's more impactful, because it goes beyond slapping a logo on irrelevant content and reaches a more desired, targeted, if naturally more narrow, audience.
Does a logo on a Buzzfeed post not have any intrinsic meaning for a marketer?
Look, there's a reason why Coke puts its logo on a billboard, and there's a point definitely valid in doing that for some brands. Certainly, it's a good way of making sure people get to know your symbol and have that on their mind for a certain amount of time.
So how can native advertising be effective?
Social recognition is one of the most valuable currencies of the internet. In a digital world where there are other currencies, there's entertainment, there's "doing good," there's being part of a community or supporting your community. These are different currencies that you can attach to your actions.
Creating value is the key to marketing, right? Advertisers want to engage people. They want to drive them into experience. But to do so, there has to be something in it for the consumer. There's this mathematical equation that people do, what's the investment on my part versus the rewards?
Facebook has done brilliantly with their native mobile ads. The key is to bring it all back to minimizing intrusiveness, while at the same time, maximizing value. Like their quick to download features within the app – it's just two quick taps to get additional content and you don't have to exit Facebook. If your objective as a marketer is to get downloads, and you're doing anything other than buying Facebook, you're a moron.
What role can native advertising play in helping online evolve into more of a branding medium, as opposed to a direct response one?
It's difficult. I don't think you're going to have the online equivalent of an American Idol in its prime as a mass experience. And branding tends to need a mass experience. But I think online can be more targeted and focused. As other forms of media, especially video, become more closely entwined with traditional media, that's when you'll see more branding campaigns online as part of cross-platform deals. After all, why wouldn't you buy what performs best first? Make online part of your TV buy. After all, the basic element of branding campaigns is still the fact that marketers are willing to pay a premium to be adjacent to quality content. So if you add the production values associated with TV and combine that with a layer of social media to extend the life of that campaign, you're able to fine-tune that message and its distribution. And I think that's incredibly powerful.
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