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When in Rome do as the Romans do; a basic guide to Native Advertising

Through all the hype and furore over the power of native advertising – not to mention the thousands of words that have been generated within the industry about how it is the future of brand promotion as we know it – we haven’t quite completed the job of explaining exactly what it is and how you do it. Preferably in plain English.

Neil Bedwell from Coca Cola put it pretty simply at the Native Advertising Summit. “What we do every-day is try to create content that consumers want to see/view as much as non-branded content.”

OK so far; we’re not just hitting the customer with a garish banner ad, we know the researchers tell us the reader has learned to ignore those anyway. As Solve Media put it so succinctly in 2013, “you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad!

According to Bedwell, what they put up is content that appeals as much as non-branded content. Patrick Albano from Yahoo helps us to narrow that down; speaking at the same conference he said, “The challenge with native is finding that sweet spot between fitting in and standing out.”

So what does that actually mean? The native ad starts with the reader; where are they (in media terms e.g. online or browsing through a magazine) and why have they come to that place? Are they looking for information or entertainment? The answer is probably a combination of both. The editorial team will know their readership; they’ll know how to write for them and how to use images and video to make that experience as rich as possible, in the reader’s terms.

With a native strategy, the advertisers doesn’t just take advantage of the fact that the reader’s there and attempt to grab their attention; instead, they seamlessly become a part of why the reader is there, they become part of that experience.

Take a recent native ad by Purina, who make a fair chunk of the world’s pet food. They ran “5 heart-warming stories that prove dog is man’s best friend”; stories of dogs saving lives, mourning lost owners; all the sort of stuff that we dog owners can’t get enough of. The thing is there wasn’t a mention of dog food anywhere in the piece.

A waste of Purina’s money? No, because that simple piece got 20,000 ‘shares’; not just read but actually forwarded to friends and other dog owners by the readers, each share taking the subtle Purina branding with it.

The first step is to embrace the visual style of the host media; not to mimic or to deceive, but to embrace the values that have brought the reader here. Imagine how you feel when watching an absorbing movie on TV and suddenly it goes to a break with an ad that combines ghastly loud music with fatuous visuals; the mood has gone, the power of the movie lost. Display ads can be like that for readers, but native ads simply join the story.

It’s not just the look and feel either, a native ad has to talk directly to the reader in their language. The Purina ‘Heart Warming’ native ad would sit comfortably in The Sun or The Mirror; but for the Times or the Guardian would probably need to cut back on the emotion and explore instead the psychology of the dog or the history of the relationship between man and dog. However, still without a mention of dog food!

Perhaps Dave Rollo of BLiNQ Media says it best, “Native ads are part of the content – they are very different because they’re not different.”

With native advertising we have to trust in the power of not trying to sell anything to allow our brand to bond with the customer through the mutual interest expressed in the content.

According to Robert de Niro, “Italy has changed but Rome is Rome.” Brands could do well to do as the Romans do.