Native vs. Naive.

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TOSHIBA Exif JPEGLots of hate brewing lately for native advertising.  We’ve all seen John Oliver’s hilarious 12 minute rant on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight.”  More recently, on Digiday, we learn – courtesy of JWT Atlanta’s Todd Copilevitz – that “Native advertising is further proof we’ve lost our way.”

I’m going to shortchange Todd’s otherwise thoughtful commentary by pointing out what I think are its wobbliest pillars.  The first is contained in the headline:  the idea that advertising and media ever really had a “way” to lose in the first place.  The old rules about church and state worked about as well on Madison Avenue as they did in Tudor England.   Advertisers have been trying to crowd the lines and occupy the editorial and entertainment spaces since long before Don Draper was shaking down patrons for change in that Pennsylvania whorehouse of his youth.

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The article also calls for a re-commitment to our various roles in the mix:   advertisers make great brands and products, editors write great articles, while agency creatives pen masterful ad messages. But this agreement that we’d all stay in our lanes and swim our hardest was, in truth, nothing more than a convenience.  That advertising would live in little fenced-off pods and boxes while content would stay outside those lines was simply a delivery arrangement; in the world of TV it’s still a darned good one.  Online we’ve seen the rapid commoditization of those pods and boxes matched by consumers studied willingness to ignore and avoid them.  So the arrangement breaks down more rapidly.  No big surprise.

A third point in the piece is that marketers and agencies are just not doing a good enough job of storytelling.  This is a myth we’ve told ourselves about advertising for generations, and we’ve embellished it with creative award shows and the annual Super Bowl beauty pageant.  There are some ads that are more clever than others, but what it comes down to is just whether they are effective (or not) at doing what they’re supposed to do.  Storytelling is far too big a concept to be contained in banner ads, 30-second spots and full page ads.  Marketers will use every channel available – packaging, publicity, events, public relations, retailer relationships, infomercials and, yes, native advertising.

Todd is right in saying that native isn’t a brand new concept.  But it is a timely acknowledgment and codification of a practice that’s going to be increasingly needed in today’s asymmetrical world of marketing and media.

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