Why All the Fuss About Native Advertising?

Considering the concept has only been around for 2 years, native advertising has certainly got the marketing community in a lather.What is it precisely?  Well, it's such a recent phenomenon that marketers are still arguing over its definition.The concept was introduced by Fred Wilson at the OMMA Global in September 2011, although he referred to it as the rather less catchy 'native monetization systems' (Dan Greenberg, the CEO of Sharethrough was the first to coin the phrase 'native advertising'). It has developed to such stage that 'native advertising' now has its own Wikipedia page, which defines it as:'A web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user's experience. Native ad formats match both the form and the function of the user experience in which it is placed.'Many think this definition is too simplistic and many more argue over where traditional advertising ends and native advertising starts. For example, is product placement native advertising?  Does that fact that James Bond wears an Omega watch help us to better understand the character or is it simply a piece of traditional push advertising that adds no value, to us, the consumer? What about TV advertising - can't it be a piece of useful content to the consumer in its own right?For us, the key to native advertising is its non-interruptive nature. It's not designed to interrupt consumers from the task they're trying to achieve, either online or offline, but to help inform  them and move them onto the next stage of their journey.  Hence, from a 'purpose' standpoint, it's integrated into the consumers experience and from a visual standpoint, it's integrated and non-interruptive too - largely (although not completely) blending in to its editorial surroundings.An example? Take our interactive Christmas Present Wizard, developed for Cream client Pandora, which ran in GQ's iPad edition. The consumer need? Men's fear of buying the wrong present for their partner. Our solution? A short questionnaire to solve any man’s dilemma on what to buy his wife, mother, sister, auntie or even mistress (!) for Christmas.Why is the marketing community in such a lather about it?  Because it works (if executed correctly) and is bucking the trend of metric slide seen across most other marketing disciplines.A recent survey by content marketing agency Seven found just 10% of people said they have a positive attitude towards advertising from brands whereas 57% 'definitely' or 'tended to agree' that they feel more positive towards brands that produce content for them.However, there's always a gap between how consumers portray their attitudes in research and how they display those attitudes through behaviours, so recent research from Sharethrough is perhaps more compelling.  Their study actually tracked consumers eye movements and found that consumers gave an almost equal amount of attention to native ads and the actual website content.  When banner ads and native ads were compared, consumers gave the latter 53% more attention. Our experience backs this up - our interactive Christmas present wizard delivered many more content views than static ads running at the same time.And that extra attention feeds through into both sharing and brand metrics too.  32% of the participants in the Sharethrough research said they would share the native ad with a friend or family member.  In addition, the lift in purchase intent on seeing a native ad was twice as high as that for a banner ad (18% vs. 9%).With stats like these, is not surprising marketers are aiming to invest more in native ad formats.  But they've got to be careful that they don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Native ad formats have to be integrated in both form and context - not just the former. This form of advertising is about helping the consumer, usually at an early stage of the purchase journey. If they become more about pushing brand attributes and less about meeting a consumer's immediate needs, as defined by their context, then consumers will see them as traditional advertising in another form and cynicism will grow.Native advertising offers a huge amount of potential for advertisers to increase attention, engagement and message syndication if they stick to the principles that made it such a successful phenomenon in the first place.