It’s Not Me, It’s You: Native Advertising

Let’s first get one thing clear. Native Advertising isn’t going anywhere. It’s growth is only upward and to be honest, I don’t mind it. Ultimately, as a digital design agency, we have to think about how to best interact with humans. The ethics of native advertising are well debated, and I won’t add to that debate. The key for me as a strategist is to find ways to connect with people that feels less disruptive. I know we in the tech world love “disruption”, but most of the world doesn’t, especially when it comes to how they interact with things on a day to day basis.

I think the big hurdle we are still facing is how can a brand create content and push it out to consumers without feeling slanted. The BuzzFeed example of Nutella from our previous post is a great example. Why? Because, who doesn’t love Nutella? Seriously, if you don’t like Nutella you need an intervention.

It works for Nutella because the brand doesn’t have many hurdles to overcome. It’s just Nutella. It makes your food taste better, it’s that simple. That is something people can get behind. Most brands don’t have this benefit. If you’re a car manufacturer or a cell phone maker, your native ads often look like “why this new phone will change your life” and it’s clear that most of us know you’re pushing a phone.

This, however, is why I’m a fan of the idea of Native Advertising at it’s core; because for me, it moves away from the TV method of advertisement. This notion that I yell at you and interrupt your flow for 30sec to 1min to talk about me just doesn’t feel natural. We all enjoy a good conversation and any good sales or BD person will tell you that delivery is everything. If you’ve ever been pitched something at a dinner table – then you know what I mean. It’s the worst, that’s most advertising today.

Brands realizing that there is a better way to bring themselves up, is a good thing in my opinion. We have to understand though, brands haven’t been doing this for long. Like someone who isn’t used to dating someone for more than 5 months, they have no idea how to build a meaningful relationship. They’ve been so used to thinking only about themselves and their wants that they don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong.

It’s okay, brand – just relax – breathe – we know you’re scared deep down. It’s this shift in their thinking that’s causing the contention in how most of us view Native Advertising. Brands have just been awful communicators for the most part. The do not really know how to start a conversation, and that’s okay. This is why I love the internet, the great equalizer, because as it’s reach and ubiquity have grown those brands are having to address their poor dating skills/etiquette.

From a strategy standpoint, I think there are a few questions you, as a brand, have to ask yourself:

Is what I’m saying actually going to provide value?

If you’re going to create something, does it actually benefit the person viewing/experiencing it? Again, disruption isn’t a good thing. The best relationships don’t always have an “ask”. They’re more concerned about providing value to the individual on the other side of the equation and down the road, sure, there will be an ask, but the investment has been key.

Are you being honest about yourself as a brand?

Again, the Nutella thing works because there is almost nothing to hate about Nutella, most brands don’t get that benefit. So trying to do something “fun” and obtuse comes across sneaky and unethical if you’re Time Warner Cable doing a post on “why I love TV”. You don’t have enough customer equity and trust to pull this move, TWC. TWC is the classic bad relationship partner, they’re mostly concerned with what they can take and anytime we try to have a dialogue as a customer, about how we aren’t feeling valued, they dismiss us. It’s why so many of us are breaking up with you, TWC.

So now what? These are the two basic questions and unfortunately brands have to get better at adjusting its’ tactics to accommodate. It’s hard when higher ups want updates on how many of “X” did we sell and all the metrics around what defines success for a piece of advertisement typically doesn’t give the brand breathing room to address these two questions genuinely.

As the chart at the beginning highlights, this isn’t going away. I am thankful that as the brands become more comfortable in their own skin about how to communicate with customers we’ll see this space get better. Right now though, you’ve only got a few brands that really are great relationship partners (I love you, Nike). The vast majority of you guys are just crap at dating (Yea, I’m talking to you TWC).