Let’s stop defining ‘native’ and start doing it

01 August 2014
Content Marketing promises much, but strong examples are curious by their absence.

Last Thursday I attended IAB's Content Conference along with a few advertisers and other interested parties where we were told in various ‘I’m-gonna-shock-you-here, guys’ ways that great quality content comes first. Among the stellar line up of panelists were various publisher, agency or adtech companies all keen to impress that theirs understood the importance of good content and could deliver it for advertisers. But there weren't many inspiring and recent examples of said great content. 

I mean, it has been almost two years since Felix Baumgarter plummeted 25 miles earthwards in the name of adrenalin-rush adventure and caffeine-related refreshment. Yet that is still the model that gets wheeled out at these types of events. Surely agencies purporting to be good-quality content machines have produced a bit more... well, good-quality content. 

But how to achieve good content and, perhaps more importantly, avoid spewing out bad content, will be particular to each advertiser and not something for which a one-size-fits-all strategy exists. 

One could appropriate the general rule of thumb chosen by the father of the English Arts & Crafts movement of the C.19th; for William Morris’ rejection of furniture ‘neither useful nor beautiful’, apply the need for content marketing need to be engaging and informative or, ideally, both. 

Advertisers in the audience will also have taken away with them various and contrary definitions of what ‘native’ advertising is, perhaps demonstrating how muddled the market is right now. But it needn’t be confusing. 

Quite simply, for me, ‘native’ is advertorial, itself advertiser sponsored/sponsored content, rebranded for the digital age. To extend the analogy, if good content is a quality newspaper, then good ‘native’ advertising is the advertorial that sits naturally within its pages. 

The tricky bit – at least as far as avoiding potential regulation of ‘native’ – will be to make it plain to the consumer that what they are reading/watching/listening to/and even partaking in, is an ad, without diminishing its impact. This is where we can expect to see the most flux over the next couple of years, as brands, their agencies and the ASA work out where that fine line exists between putting out good content and ensuring consumers know they are being sold to. 

But for now let’s stop wasting time working out what the Oxford English Dictionary should define it as and get on with making some. Maybe then Seth Rogin will reinstate it as a permissible phrase in the Mashable office.

The need to get content right is obvious, how to do it less so. But brands can ill-afford to ignore it. ISBA’s new paper "Perspectives on Content Marketing"*, is a good starting point for all advertisers who are beginning to think about Content Marketing or have already started to embrace this new marketing term.

*You are now being sold to!

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