Dale Lovell of Adyoulike: native advertising is the new big thing but can it be more than PR with bells on?

For all the chatter around native advertising over the past year or so, accelerating as we moved into 2014, around half (49 per cent) of us still don’t actually know what it is, according to Copyblogger.

Putting on our publisher’s hat, the premise of native advertising is straightforward. It brings content creation expertise and a content marketing approach to branded content and uses reach and technology to amplify that content. So far, so simple. Yet certain myths remain to be debunked.

Firstly, is the concept of native advertising really anything more than PR with bells on? The most obvious difference is that native works with the end consumer in mind, not the media owner. Rather than feeding angles and ideas to present to the media, native agencies encourage brands to create their own content.

At first glance, it works much like the old-fashioned advertorial applied to digital media. Unlike traditional display (think MPU and banner formats), native content is placed within the main body of content, not to the side or top of the page. Done effectively, it integrates with the style, tone and content of the site seamlessly to engage readers. To all intents and purposes, it’s part of the editorial experience, not advertising, and an endlessly preferable option to just making bigger, pushier display ads.

Crucially, native differentiates by taking a straight-talking full disclosure approach. Each piece of native content declares itself as such, with a sponsored post or promoted post header which people can choose to interact with. By inviting people to initiate engagement, rather than interrupting, native ads effectively deliver from five to twenty times better response rates than banner ads. Then once there, people stay, with average dwell times of around one minute.

While PR has worked over the decades to build strong relationships with the media, native seeks to attract end users’ attention directly based on deep knowledge of target audiences. Achieving cut through means understanding consumers’ journey online, as well as how they consume content. Even with top-notch branded content, they are no guarantees that it will ignite successfully online. Native agencies will monitor and optimise headlines to figure out which will generate better engagement, for instance.

Although the lines between advertising and editorial are becoming increasingly blurred, many principles of “old school advertising” still apply in our digital world. I often look to magazine front covers for inspiration; the glossies have been doing native of sorts for decades. When you live or die by people picking your product off the shelf, you need to know what makes your reader tick.

David Ogilvy’s classic ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ highlighted the technique of whetting readers’ appetites for long-form copy with catchy display subheads. Fast forward some half a century later and native offers both the short form hors d’oeuvres and the option to lure prospects directly towards your brand’s main dish, its story. I’m yet to see a press release that can do that.

Another myth is that native is only for brands that have fantastic content. Widely lauded as the reigning champion of content marketing, Red Bull (above) has won public attention by effectively becoming a media owner. And while we can’t all hope to recreate the epic heights of the Stratos space jump, the first step to creating compelling content is to think like a publisher. Yes – the brands that get the best results from native will be those ready to step into a publisher role – but I struggle to think of a business that isn’t already sitting on some content.

Bear in mind that native advertising, when done right, is all about great storytelling. Just like a publisher or journalist, native looks to find the story behind the brand. Dig into the archives of case studies, award entries or pitch materials and there will be content that can be adapted. Skilful native agencies will take a creative, editorial-led approach to find the right angle for each audience to gain traction campaign by campaign.

The press release. The native ad. The story. Paid, earned or owned, the ultimate goal of any communication is to engage meaningfully with audiences – and content is the new currency of engagement. Creating the right piece of content to speak to your prospects’ needs at the right moment, adding the scale and reach to hit people where it’s most effective – that is the essence of native advertising. And in a digital advertising landscape ripe for disruption, its refreshing focus on transparency and potential for ongoing targeted messaging will move native from buzzword to mainstay before long.

DaleDale Lovell, is Adyoulike content and publishing director. Lovell co-founded Content Amp the UK’s leading native distribution and content service which was acquired last week by Adyoulike, a pioneer of native advertising in France, to create Europe’s first pure-play native advertising company. Content Amp in now rebranding as Adyoulike UK

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