Native Advertising and Big Brand Success: Finally, Publicity That Matters

Aug 25, 2014

Smartphones and waterslides. Snickers and weight loss. Ice cream and BBQ sauce. Tequila and self-respect.

While we aren’t here to judge your latest fixations, most of us can agree that – though wonderful in their own right – these paired items just don’t make sense. According to John Oliver, comedic talent and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, a fifth pair to add to that list is native advertising and real, hard-hitting journalism. Oliver contends that seamlessly integrating native advertising into top-tier news outlets is a way to trick viewers into viewing branded content by masking it as unbiased news. And while we understand his point, the frequency of its use makes us wonder: Is it really all that bad?

Despite its surge as the latest trend for today’s advertisers, native advertising is far from new. Defined in different ways (depending upon whom you ask), native advertising is essentially a form of media that’s built into the actual visual design of news; one where ads and content become one and the same. Dating to the early 1900s, when branded advertising was coordinated with media coverage to target readers interested in specific topics, native advertising has taken many forms: advertorial content and sponsored radio shows, product placements, branded television and soap opera series, infomercials and even search ads.

Rocked by new forms of digital media, today’s native advertising – which has sparked controversy among forward-thinking marketing executives and old-school PC users across the globe – is fueled by sponsored content on such websites as Buzzfeed and Mashable, or major news outlets that include Forbes, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The goal is to provide newsworthy information that presents opportunities for the business goals of the story’s sponsoring brand.

Native advertising has become a core public relations strategy for some of the world’s largest brands. GE, one of the early adopters of the “brand as content trend, has invested millions in native advertising campaigns over the past four years, capitalizing on what the company believes to be the next phase of innovative marketing. When Jimmy Fallon took over The Tonight Show earlier this year, for example, GE sponsored a special segment called “GE Fallonventions” to showcase teen geniuses and their latest inventions – such as 16 year-old Anne, with her flashlight powered by the heat of the human hand. Netflix, too, jumped on the trend when it published an article titled “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work” in The New York Times to promote Season 2 of Orange is the New Black. While one company used a popular comedian, child prodigies and late night television, the other used a major consumer brand, historical online news outlet and a controversial issue.

The result? Both benefited from an advertising platform that actually drew viewers – instead of deterring them.

The clincher is this: Viewpoints aside, in an age so focused on attracting the masses through disruption and innovation, we are witnessing a shift toward advertising that is successful simply because of its lack of disruption.  In spite of this irony, native advertising seems to have struck a chord with some of the biggest names in the brand game – GE, TGI Fridays and Hyundai – spurring an even greater question: Where will advertising head next?

We want to know.

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send a tweet to @thinkinkpr.

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