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Native Advertising vs Content Marketing

A marketer from Switzerland emailed me recently to ask me about the difference between content marketing and native advertising. This was my response:

 

“{Name Redacted},

Content marketing is, exactly like you said, a way for a brand to tell a story in an editorial format. For example, Toyota could write a piece about a happy family road trip and pay a newspaper to publish that story. (This is also sometimes called “advertorial”).

While content marketing allows a brand to completely control the message, there are two fundamental problems with it: it’s hard to scale, and it can be perceived by many people as deceptive.

So, to broadcast a message at scale, advertisers rely on traditional display networks, which suffer from the opposite problem: they “spray” millions of cookie-cutter ads across the web, usually unrelated to the content of the page they are on, and disruptive to the users’ browsing experience.

Native advertising is out to bridge that gap: deliver seamlessly integrated, relevant ad experiences at scale. Usually that means customizing the ad delivery platform to fit into the design and functionality of every publisher’s site. Sites likes Facebook have this functionality from the start, using “sponsored posts.”

Traditional publishers however, do not, and companies like TripReactor help them create “native” inventory that extends their editorial narrative with relevant advertising. In our case, advertisers send us raw images and text, and we dynamically display it within each publisher’s format in real time.”

(This post is the first in a series about the differences between advertorials, content marketing, and native advertising).

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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.

Things the iPad won’t kill.

[tweetmeme source=”mraybman” only_single=false]

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.

Using Posterous and Google Reader to build a content hub.

January 31, 2010 4 comments

Recently, I came across a great post by Mike Troiano on building a basic content hub. So, I built one around the WaySavvy blog using his advice. The end goal is to build a portal for all things travel, where we can both broadcast our original travel content and syndicate interesting things from the web. There’s still lots of tweaking to be done as we’re experimenting with various services so this is not production-ready but I thought I’d share our progress so far.

The building blocks:

1. WordPress.com. Since we’re not hosting our own WordPress blog (yet), WordPress.com seemed like the second best thing. It has a good selection of features and themes, automatic SEO, and a nice selection of widgets you can add to your page. Auto-broadcasting to Twitter is one of my favorite ones.

2. Google reader. Reader has earned its reputation as the best feed aggregator, but the feature we are using most here is “Send To.” To set it up go to settings > reader settings > send to. What this does is let you broadcast any entry you find interesting in reader to other sites.

3. Which brings me to Posterous. Posterous is an incredibly simple blogging platform that allows you to post content by emailing it to post@posterous.com from the address you registered with (or you can select Posterous in the “send to” menu in Google reader). One of its best features is autopost, which propagates the content you sent to Posterous on to pretty much any other platform: in our case: WordPress, Facebook, Flickr, and Youtube. With simple prefixes to the email address you can choose to propagate content everywhere or selectively. What’s more, Posterous allows you to add multiple emails to the account so multiple people can use it as a funnel to post to all of your company’s content outlets without having an admin login into each one.

There are two alternatives here:

a. skip a step and “Send To” some of these networks directly from Google reader. Problem is, reader doesn’t support all of the features Posterous does, such as posting directly to a Facebook Page (not a Facebook profile)

b. Use Ping.fm, which can propagate content to even more places than Posterous but does not create another blog in the process. The issue here is that Ping (for now) does not have the group posting feature – though I’m keeping an eye out for when they might offer it.

4. Facebook page – you can create one for free from your personal account. For now, our page simply mirrors the WordPress blog, but to quote someone very famous “we’ll find something to put here soon.” Kudos if you get the reference.

5. Flickr/Youtube/Yammer – once you create an account with each of these, connecting them to Posterous is very easy – media content gets filtered automatically and sent to the right place (i.e. videos to YouTube, pictures to Flickr).

So, to track a sample post: Find something interesting in google reader, click “send to posterous” and it automatically gets posted on WordPress and Facebook. WordPress, in turn updates Twitter. If there are images in the original post, they get sent to Flickr.

To publish original content, write it in your text editor of choice and send by email to post@posterous.com

Magic!

Now that the basic building blocks are set up comes the hard part – figuring out the best content to syndicate, generating lots of original content, and starting a community. More posts on that as we go along.