Going Native

The hottest topic in media (advertising, marketing – take your pick) is Native Advertising. It seems everyone is going native when it comes to their brand spend. This wild enthusiasm is only matched by the total confusion about what exactly is Native Advertising. There are a bunch of definitions flying round. The most all-purpose definition is probably something like “Brand promotion messages or content on the internet that fit so well into the context in which they appear you hardly know or care whether you are being sold to”. So this will span everything from Google Adwords (ads appear alongside natural search results in exactly the same format) to sponsored stories, videos, images, music on respectively facebook, youtube, pinterest or spotify and their ilk.

Native can include the internet version of an “advertorial” – an on-line publisher will include some story about a brand in their normal content flow, some bloggers will simply get paid to write stuff about a brand or company. These are supposed to be clearly indicated but many are not and many would claim that no-one cares. If it is a good read, it is a good read, and it’s not like you paid for it. The Red Bull case study gets trotted out over and over again. Red Bull promote its energy drink by associating itself with derring-do – whether Formula One Sponsorship, Extreme Sports or some bloke parachuting from a great height. The point about the latter is this specific, fully Red Bull funded, stunt found its way into a gazillion blogs and newsfeeds on the web. Good old fashioned PR? Well yes, but specifically designed and presented for the on-line publishing world.

What is behind all this? Simply a frustration with banner ads. I’ve mentioned before that advertisers have done the same thing in digital that they did when commercial TV came on the scene. They adapted what they knew for the new medium (in the case of TV they ran radio ads with pictures, in the case of on-line publishing they ran press ads) rather than learning new tricks or at the very least re-learning and reframing old tricks.

Advertisers’ willingness to pay for banner ads here, there and everywhere allowed any old crap blogger to make a bob or two out of their sites and gave major off-line publishers the false idea that they could recreate their business model on-line. But what is the one dominant feature of on-line? You can measure almost everything and pretty soon everyone has figured out that “You have more chance of surviving an air crash than clicking on a banner ad”. Native advertising works better, brands and agencies are prepared to pay more for better results, the trend has caught fire. There are new agencies who know how to do it, new platforms that know how to get it out there, new opportunities on every major social media site, all looking to cash in with numbers and metrics to back up their case.

The old guard will say – as they always do – that there is nothing new here. With the right connections, budgets and brand stories you could always lean on editors and journalists to big up you brand. The Gold Blend ads (I know I am going back a while here) worked because they were a brand relevant 30 second soap opera that got flighted in the ad break of, yes, a soap opera. How native is that? What is the difference between sponsored content and event or celebrity sponsorship?

As soon as attention and eyeballs move away from one activity to another, brands will eventually find a way to shoe-horn themselves into that new activity be it watching TV, surfing the net, keeping up with friends and trends or playing games. Yes fundamentally it is the same game but scale, data, algorithms, real-time metrics, fragmentation, pace of change and user empowerment make it a game with new rules and new potential to win or fail.

I try to keep pace with all this and am lucky enough to spend most of my time with people who know a lot more than me because they are out there building new marketing tech businesses. One person I keep up with on a regular basis here in Cape Town is Will Mellor. He is better known (and he is very well known) as Seth Rotheram, the alter ego he created for his blog site, 2Oceansvibe. Except when he started the term blogging had not been created and the software did not exist. He began posting pictures of the Camps Bay in-crowd with amusing little stories and gossip. He started to add cool lifestyle content he found on the internet. In those days he had to take the site down and then reload it every night because there was no WordPress. His popularity and unique visitors grew, he could start to get all manner of freebies and some cash to talk about brands, events, restaurants. No-one cares he is getting paid because 2OV is just such a great read and the first place to go to find the funniest and sauciest stuff on the net. He has also always featured brands and magazines for which he does not get paid simply because he thinks they give his brand the right vibe. He then launched an on-line radio station, relaunched the blog as an on-line magazine and is currently re-naming and rebranding all the neighbourhoods in Cape Town – the Hoods Project – and in the process creating a whole new geo-cultural cluster.

Will, aka Seth, has not just understood celebrity he created one, he was blogging before we knew what blogging was, he turned this into the new model for on-line publishing and is at the forefront of on-line media. And yes – he has been making money (funding his lifestyle) with native advertising long before the rest of us went native. He is the ultimate local/global and now micro-local. If he was in London or New York he’d be mega rich and famous. But as he says – work’s a sideline, live the lifestyle.

And the lifestyle is good in Cape Town, at least for the some of the natives.

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