Like Gangnam Style, the term “native advertising” was fairly obscure until mid-August and then all of the sudden it was everywhere.
Well, not everywhere, but it seemed to be in advertising circles and blogs where various experts got to tee off on the matter. Suddenly, would-be social media gurus had a new pet term to throw around to make others feel behind the curve. But is there actually any substance behind it, or is native advertising just the latest buzzword in an industry that specializes in creating buzzwords?
The answer: It depends on who you talk to. Native advertising appears to mean different things to different people.
First, some etymology: “Native advertising” appears to have come from a talk that investor Fred Wilson gave at OMMA Global last September. Wilson didn’t use the term “native advertising,” but he did mention “native monetization” for web properties, which he described as ads that were “unique and native to the experience” of the site. Dan Greenberg, the CEO of Sharethrough, liked the idea and began promoting it. Greenberg told Mashable he doesn’t know if he coined the term “native advertising,” but he began evangelizing the concept.
But what is it? When asked for a definition, Greenberg offered, “a form of media that’s built into the actual visual design and where the ads are part of the content.” While Greenberg draws a distinction between native advertising and content marketing, John LoGioco, SVP and general manager of content at Outbrain, says the two are pretty much the same. “‘Native advertising’ seems to be the thing that most are able to hang on to and get it,” he says. “If people understand better, that’s great.”
Not everyone sees native advertising as a publisher-driven phenomenon, though. Others in the industry say native advertising refers to communication on social media platforms between brands and their customers. So when The Atlantic described a new campaign for Fidelity Investments as native advertising, some called BS.
The loudest such critic, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer, considers native advertising in this case just a re-packaged version of advertorials, a timeworn ad format for print media. Schafer’s definition is a bit different: “Advertising that takes advantage of a platform in the ways consumers are actually using it.” For Schafer, that means something like Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, which merely amplifies the communication that’s going on between fans and brands or Premium Ads that let a brand pay to blast fans with a recent status update. Twitter’s Promoted Tweets don’t fit the bill because that’s merely an intrusive banner ad by another name, but Promoted Accounts works because consumers can choose to follow and interact with the account.
James Gross, the co-founder of Percolate, agrees that native advertising can’t occur on a third-party publisher’s site. “What’s happening in social is that brands are acquiring audiences and then natively communicating with those audiences,” he says. “Brands are the publishers and they’re given the same tools as everyone else.” For instance, Gross says, Coca-Cola may have 50 million fans, but it gets the same Facebook Page that you and I do. He says the model is a change since “brands have always borrowed media space [from publishers] and rammed through their message.”
To complicate matters further, Greenberg says he has no problem lumping in advertorials with native advertising. “An advertorial, if done right, is a form of native advertising,” he says.
Despite the back and forth, though, Greenberg doesn’t see much of a difference of opinion. For him, all the activity falls under one broad umbrella. “We’re using different words, but we’re all dancing around the same definition,” he says. “It’s good content and a user experience that’s consistent.”
Image courtesy of Flickr, Owenwbrown