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Why Native Advertising Must Live

(Full Disclosure: my company, TripReactor, builds native advertising solutions for travel and lifestyle industries).

Last week, Lori Luechtefeld wrote a post titled “Why Native Advertising Must Die.”  In it, she makes an argument that the term “Native Advertising” is an ephemeral industry buzzword that needs to be avoided, because it leads to a “horrible blurring of the distinction between pure editorial and advertising that’s going to ultimately backfire on publishers and marketers alike.”

Please read Lori’s entire article here. It raises valid concerns, and builds a compelling argument for caution in resurrecting failed practices under a new buzzword.

I believe technology has progressed to a point where we can deliver highly relevant advertising in a way that’s truly valuable and engaging to the user, at scale. Advertorials and banner ads cannot do that for all types of content. The term “Native,” however, can provide a name for this emerging class of ad technology, if used properly.

Native advertising, at one point defined by Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough, as “a form of media that’s built into the actual visual design and where the ads are part of the content.” The term didn’t gain wide exposure until last year’s AdTech conference, and being so new it sill lacks a ubiquitously accepted definition. Therein lies a problem – it’s hard to analyze a term when people don’t agree on what it means.

If we imply that “native advertising”  is native to Content, then we may indeed be conflating native advertising with deceptive versions of content marketing. (Lori refers to that as “The Misdirection” in her post). Content that’s masked to appear editorial when it actually comes from a third-party source is a poor practice that must, indeed, die.

However, as an engineer, I approach this definition with an engineer’s vocabulary. According to Wikipedia, “In computing, the “native” adjective refers to software or data formats supported by a certain system with minimal computational overhead and additional components. This word is used in such terms as native mode or native code.”

In the context of advertising, I take it to mean that “native” applies not to Content, but to Design and User Experience. A banner ad for a particular product, for example, looks exactly the same on every single site it appears on. People get so allergic to looking them that  “banner blindness” is actually a term!

I believe that a display advertising unit can be called “native” if it fits the following two criteria:

1. It extends the editorial narrative by offering products and services contextually related to editorial content.

2. It extends the design language and user experience of the site it is on.

If we can satisfy these conditions at web scale, users will find more value on publisher sites, publishers will earn more money, and brands will be able to reach consumers via efficient, measurable display channels.

Is it possible and probable that this terminology will be abused by some? Sure. But it is incumbent upon us as an industry to own innovation, and create meaningful terminology as needed. Native Advertising must not be confused with “content marketing” or “deceptive advertising.” Native Advertising must live.

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