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Marmite’s owners taste native advertising – they’ll either love it or hate it.

Any marketer who is still not sure whether native advertising is just another fad that they can safely ignore, should take a good look the latest major league collaboration between Unilever and social issues promoters, Upworthy.

Unilever are one of those giants who have pretty much written the FMCG marketing bible; so if they think native advertising is an important channel, then the rest of us had better listen. However, the lessons to be learned are not just in the fact that a major consumer brand owner has chosen to go native, but the reasoning and context behind the decision.

Unilever’s new marketing mantra is ‘Crafting Brands for Life’ and seeks to play a major role in overcoming social challenges through the power of brands and technology. Within that strategy, they have launched Project Sunlight with a vision of encouraging ‘a growing community of people who want to make the world a better place for children and future generations’.

Enter Upworthy; a site dedicated to providing a curated platform for social issue content and consistently attracting over 50 million visitors per month, with the average visitor spending an unbelievable 11.44 hours on the content. Such ‘stickiness’ is the holy grail for many sites as well as the companies that would like to gain access to that audience; but it is the symbiotic nature of the relationship that is the hallmark of native advertising.

For Upworthy, they need the sort of revenues that a major spender like Unilever brings. The investors who put up the initial tranche of $6 million in funding for the site will eventually be looking for ROI; but the site will have no future if it does not stick rigidly to its ethical promise. Included in that are commitments that clients, or ‘collaborations’ as Upworthy call them, will have no ‘ability or leverage to affect content’.

Unilever know that only a genuine commitment to a corporate social responsibility agenda will convince today’s hype and bandwagon savvy consumers; they know that they need unimpeachable social credentials to maintain a sustainable belief in their brands. As Marc Mathieu, senior vice president of global marketing for Unilever stated, “Upworthy attracts a huge community of highly influential, socially conscious citizens – people who share our goal of building a better future for children.” Initially the partnership will work across several Unilever brands, with the expectation that effective story telling will help the company to engage more meaningfully with people – all of whom are potentially consumers.

The key is that such an influencer as Upworthy, clearly on exponential flight in online social exposure terms, is saying that Unilever is a good fit for the site’s audience due to their “great strides toward a more sustainable world”. That kind of message reinforcement doesn’t do anybody any harm, no matter how big you are.

Clearly, Unilever are prepared to put their money on the table in their reciprocal endorsement of native advertising, having also signed a ‘partnership’ with the Guardian carrying a cool seven figure price tag’. So from a corporate that own brands from soap powders to Marmite via ice cream and shampoo, this is a communications strategy that really will be worth watching.