Plenty has been written about how content has changed in recent years but, in reality, the Reithian principals instilled in me while producing work for the BBC back in the day still hold true – content should “educate, inform and entertain”. Following the adoption of social media into our everyday lives you should add ‘involve’ to that list, but the basic fundamentals remain the same, albeit adapting to new platforms, formats and lower attention spans.
However, while the principals of content production have always stayed consistent, the increase in branded content has provided plenty of new challenges in terms of trust and authenticity – and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to native advertising.
Bad native advertising can be intrusive, misleading and inauthentic. It can make people feel like they’ve been tricked into engaging with a piece of content and, in some cases, can damage the credibility of the brand, platform and the agency. Agencies need to be particularly mindful of the trust issues when it comes to partnering with traditional news outlets as the perceived impartiality of these outlets is paramount to their success. The resignation of the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, over the paper’s lack of coverage of the HSBC tax story in order, he claimed, to keep its advertising account is one high-profile example of modern advertising being at odds with traditional news reporting.
However, while it can be tough for traditional news outlets to maintain their ethos in the world of native advertising (although, done well, native advertising can undoubtedly be a success on any platform), the new generation of publishers thrive. Part of it comes down to the transaction process. Traditional media is a straightforward transaction – the consumer gives the publisher their money and they get their content. Modern models often require a different transaction – content is provided and the consumer pays, not in money, but by wilfully engaging with the sponsor of the content.
Native advertising and Millennials
For Millennials this is a perfectly normal process – a vast majority have been consuming content in this way all their lives, whether through YouTube, Spotify, Facebook or other platforms. This new generation of publishers such as Vice, Pitchfork or Tumblr provide the perfect platform for reaching Millennials through native advertising. They produce great content – both sponsored and non-sponsored – that remains engaging and authentic regardless of how it was funded. They have such strong editorial voices that it doesn’t matter how it was funded. Their readers are happy to engage with native advertising because it’s what they expect from these publishers. It’s what they’ve always known. But they will only be happy to keep engaging if the brand and the content produced are right for that audience. For native advertising to work, all three elements – the brand, content and publication – all need to complement each other. If one of those elements doesn’t fit, then you lose the trust of the audience and the content becomes nothing more than a clumsy piece of traditional advertising.
The marriage of brand, content and publication is something we at MediaCom Beyond Advertising put a lot of effort into getting right. We’ve seen great results by aligning Bose with Vice, Facebook and Spotify, as well as Volkswagen with the Discovery Channel in the US – but they only worked because the fit between brand and platform was natural and the content engaging.
We shouldn’t take the attention of Millennials and the relationship between native advertising and Millennials for granted though. They may currently be happy to engage with native advertising, but they are highly attuned at spotting poor content in an unnatural environment. Millennials will only continue to engage if native advertising keeps educating, informing, entertaining and engaging them in an authentic way.
James Morris from MediaCom is one of many great experts and keynote speakers at the Native Advertising Days, October 19th – 20th, 2015 in Copenhagen.