Going “native” with your advertising

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A Facebook "native" ad. Note this is not an endorsement (or critique of the ad itself.)

native advertising economistsYesterday, I observed a term in a blog posting I hadn’t heard before: “Native advertising”. Perhaps reflecting my age, I thought initially of specialized advertising geared to people in the First Nations (the new, and more politically correct, term for aboriginals or “Indians”. Then, with a bit of research, I learned that “native advertising” effectively shares traits with conventional print-media “Advertorials” in the social media context. You can see signs of Native Advertising in “sponsored posts” on Facebook, with similar-style Tweets in Twitter, visual ads in Pinetrest, and (perhaps the earliest variant of this), Google’s sponsored keyword links.

All of these advertising formats share the blending between editorial/natural and intentionally commercial, and are designed to elicit higher trust/responsiveness than conventional stand-alone or jarring “this is an ad” advertisements.

In proper contexts, they are totally ethical, but I’ve seen some rather dubious abuses, such as the “work at home” scams designed to look like they are reproductions of real news articles (often using legitimate media outlet/network names/logos), when they are totally made up and designed to appeal to vulnerable people hoping to make money quickly, with limited skills.

On the other extreme, I’ve been astounded by the effectiveness and risk of certain Facebook sponsored postings, with likes and comments just like real postings. Here, the merging between editorial and advertising becomes tantalizingly complex, as sometimes the comments call out the advertiser on real flaws in their offers. (Notably, offers referenced below are day-of-time centric, and appear in the afternoon and evening, when the likely audience for them will be higher, rather than in the morning, when I am writing this blog).

A TechCrunch article about Twitter's MoPub acquisition.  Note the ads here are NOT native -- they are clearly separated from the editorial.
A TechCrunch article about Twitter’s MoPub acquisition. Note the ads here are NOT native — they are clearly separated from the editorial.

In one case, for example, an auto loan deal for people with bad credit shows an attractive woman under a car hood. Some of the comments rightfully “call out” the offer as a scheme to rook people into high-interest loans on falling-apart used cars, but others report they haven’t had an answer to their requests — it seems this is a loan brokerage operation which refers clients (suckers?) to used car dealers, and sometimes the referrals get lost in the shuffle. In another, the ad offers some rebates for rooftop solar panels in Ontario, playing on the government’s high payment rates for solar energy. A few commenters note the risks in buying into the advertiser’s program, but others are interested.  I think, in many cases, the negative comments perhaps help the advertiser achieve the goal with the desired clients.  (Realistically, people who manage their credit well or avoid car loans completely (like me), will scorn the offer, but we aren’t the target market for the advertiser, are we? And you obviously won’t see the solar panel ad unless you are in Ontario, maybe also in your own home.)

In practice, Native Advertising, like other advertising formats, work best with larger audiences/markets that can support the cost — but the high degree of targeting and demographic controls available with social media, plus their immediacy and responsiveness, create genuine opportunities for marketers. This topic is worthy of further exploration and I will look for relevant AEC industry examples.

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