Jen Smith of Maxus: why native advertising is a better deal for marketers than advertorials

Speaking at Adobe’s London Digital Marketing Summit, Will Hayward, vice-president, advertising at BuzzFeed said native advertising was currently seen as an example of the “blurring” of editorial and commercial.

This sounds a lot like the old marketing tool, the advertorial. And if native advertising is to challenge the advertorial format, it needs to be seen as a grown-up part of the media mix.

Advertorial – a one-sided approach

From my perspective an advertorial is an agency and client’s last ditch attempt to make a low interest category or brand interesting.

The reality is that the well qualified editorial team are often too busy filing interesting content to worry about the brand pillar of a personal toiletry product or holiday destination to provide scintillating content that aligns the best interests of all parties.

The task is inevitably farmed out to interns or freelance writers, often on short timelines. The publication in this instance holds all the cards and takes a commercial approach.

In essence it is a parasitic relationship where a lot of the power is held by one side of the arrangement.

adv1But publishers and media owners are facing a changing consumer consumption model that demands content 24 hours a day (accelerated by mobile devices). Current staff structures can’t support that and just replicating the same content onto every media outlet will surely erode any business model in the long term. Until these stakeholders find a way to financially monetise their digital offering, this is not viable in the long-term.

Native advertising – equal inputs and outputs

In comparison, native advertising offers equal benefits to all parties. Content, stories, opinions and points of view are all written in the brand’s tone of voice. Plus, the product managers still get their brand endorsed by a credible media publisher.

Yes, it requires more work from all parties: the brand to understand they are aiming to create true ‘content’ not just a picture with a publications endorsement, and the publication to understand that it should be seen as a solution to a content problem they are experiencing not just fast buck onto their bottom line. But as this approach is more collaborative – it offers a symbiotic relationship as opposed to a parasitic one.


If native advertising is such a win-win it shouldn’t be a particularly hard sell. However, the same barriers that come up every time a new development in digital media takes place are alive here.

Firstly, what role does it play in the media mix?

Native Advertising is about leveraging the valued, trusted editorial of the publisher in a way that doesn’t distract from the users’ experience, but instead provides an engaging content experience. If we believe this, then planning native as a way of combating lowering response rates from direct response display formats surely is not the answer. As an industry we need to make sure that clients don’t see it in that way, but instead see it as another string to the bow of digital media and measure it accordingly.

Secondly, who creates it? By its nature, native advertising doesn’t adhere to set formats; there can be no IAB standard. This hugely increases the number of creative assets needed for a campaign. However, as with other developments in digital media, formats that sit outside of standard creative (e.g. mobile ads, search ads, social ads) tend not to have been picked up by the creative agencies. This has increased the responsibility for media owners and media agencies to work on brands’ creative, or opened the door to niche companies to take advantage.

Fundamentally, until native is measured properly and taken seriously by both creative agencies and clients, it will be tough to take advantage of the exciting opportunity.

unnamedJen Smith is head of planning at media agency Maxus

One Comment

  1. “In comparison, native advertising offers equal benefits to all parties” – what about the readers? If “content, stories, opinions and points of view are all written in the brand’s tone of voice” I believe it will gradually erode credibility of the publisher and the audience will abandon it. A parasitic relationship again.

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