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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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Things the iPad won’t kill.

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The blogosphere has been abuzz over the past few weeks trying to predict products the iPad will make obsolete. Daniel Eran Dilger has a great post that summarizes all these predictions. I think a lot of his points are quite probable, but for the sake of counter-argument, here are the things I think the iPad will not kill:

Flash. While, HTML5 is a great standard with promising graphics capabilities through its canvas control, it is still a markup language, primarily for the purpose of structuring content on web pages. Flash, on the other hand, is a platform rooted in video and animation. It is optimized for graphics rendering and provides a powerful object-oriented programming model. Frameworks like Flex do provide a markup language for Flash-based apps, but this markup is purely syntactic sugar that compiles to actionscript. Developers who are fluent with Flash and actionscript will continue to provide unique and fully platform-ubiquitous experiences to their users for a long while even if some Flex developers jump to shiny new HTML5 IDEs.

Windows Phone 7. Let me put it this way: Windows Mobile 6 was crap, and the iPhone didn’t even kill THAT. Windows Phone 7 seems to be a major improvement over 6 in every possible way. iPad OS is simply iPhone OS stretched out to work on a bigger screen. While it has a lot of momentum going forward, it is still not likely to completely obliterate Windows 7 if Microsoft doesn’t totally screw up.

Chrome OS/Android. Both of these platforms have tremendous potential by tapping into the open source community and leveraging more distribution channels than a single app store. The convenience of Apple’s app store is undeniable, but new players will enter the market and innovate the mobile app sales/download process. Perhaps, this will happen vertically, perhaps in ways we don’t yet know.

In any case, it is unreasonable to think the iPad will be the only tablet device with its hardware specs. Motorola, Samsung, and HTC have learned a lot from apple, and are bound to release competitors. Plus, Apple has now entered the territory of Toshiba, Dell, Acer, Asus and Sony, some of which are bound to release solid alternatives. These devices will need a solid OS to compete, and so Android/Chrome/Windows will be in demand.

Printed Books. Wait…really? Isn’t even Barnes and Noble jumping on the e-reader bandwagon? Well, call me old-fashioned, but I have this theory that the physical form of a book continues to carry value relative to an electronic device. The ability to just flip a book open on a random page, stick a finger there, and flip to another page, then glance at the cover while keeping both pages open is not easy to let go of. It’s a tactile interface that I think computers haven’t caught up to yet.

Now, I’m not a retrograde, and I do not believe printed books will be in demand in 50 years. But neither will the iPad. The iPod was a revolutionary device, but it is now nearing extinction at the hands of its own progeny, the iPhone. I believe that technology will move beyond the iPad before a printed book sees its last reader.