When everyone was chuckling about the Digg acquisition, the most important comment I read was that, despite the fall from grace, Digg had invented something important - they were the first social media company that aimed to make ad formats conform to the content that the site and audience revolved around.
Facebook and Twitter have both followed suit, with Promoted Tweets and Sponsored Stories both essentially being ways of paying to highlight content that is created within the parameters of the network itself.
Native advertising is the current best bet we have for making online advertising anything other than a creatively barren race to the bottom.
The problem here, however, is that native, in terms of published online content, isn’t just a matter of formatting. It’s also a matter of viewpoint, subject matter, approach and behavioural norms, and this is where most native advertising falls down.
Facebook, at core, isn’t a platform for publishing. It’s a body of evidence backing up the existence of a personality and a life. Facebook is about creating a social proof that you are out in the world, engaging with others. It attaches publishing to activities and friendships and taste and style, providing a stream of reminders that ‘I am here. I am real. I care about things, I have a unique personality, taste and style.’
This is otherwise known as ‘sharing stuff about your life’.
Twitter is about one to one, and one to many, communication, overlapping and interrelating. It’s about sharing information, opinions, links and facts.
There’s a pretty clear reason, to me, why brands on Facebook are constantly confronted with a dismal run of stats regarding follower retention, who sees posts, how they interact, etc. People might complain about Twitter ads, but they don’t come across as invasive, or as irritating, as brands-trying-to-be-my-friend do.
If we didn’t insert the word advertising, maybe we’d be more likely to focus on making it stand on its own two feet. Somewhere in the past, we decided ‘advertising’ means ‘crap you cannot avoid watching’. So, let’s go with native content.
If native content is the marriage of creative output and brand, I’d argue what brands need online isn’t user-generated content. What they need is editors.
I’m convinced that digital advertising is terrible at balancing art and science. Either we go so far in one direction that we make creativity impossible, or so far in another that we ignore everything data tells us about the proper conditions for success.
We’re operating in a time where magazines are suffering, and the people who create content are undervalued.
We’re also operating in a time where the biggest, most data-rich, and most interesting communications channels we know of, are designed to share engaging multimedia content, and are betting that, if brands really attempt to add value to those platforms, it will motivate consumer behaviour.
Has anyone considered that maybe those of us in the advertising industries should make a run at the best talent in media, at a time when media is absolutely failing to innovate?
Given the current approach is to pay them to feature us alongside content that continues to become less valuable and less relevant, maybe we should consider cutting out the middle man.
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