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A little too much native in our advertising

To his credit, my father-in-law tailors dinner conversation to the company he keeps, and with me he likes to reference a book he read many moons ago by the legendary David Ogilvy. He makes reference to some famous ads including the Hathaway Shirt (Eye Patch) ad or Rolls Royce (electric clock) ad and quotes Ogilvy, “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” My father-in-law asks me if this still holds true today.

It got me thinking: has a touch of madness entered the industry and taken the essence of his point a little too far? Have we all together removed the act of selling from our advertising? This seems counter intuitive to our job of ‘selling stuff’ and seems to be driven by a fear of making an actual tangible advertisement.

Native advertising is the zeitgeist of the moment – so let’s use that as our case-in-point. I don’t have an issue with the benefits of leveraging a platform’s form and function. Enough research exists (albeit dubious) in support of native advertising’s engagement benefits over traditional advertising. However, native advertising is starting to resemble what can only be described as a social experiment, a troubling trend that’s on the rise. The goal, it seems, is to make as little reference as possible to a brand, product or service. The esoteric subtlety is so extreme that not even the client can guess what the ad is selling.

It is fair and reasonable to explain the use of subtle content messaging as a means of creating an emotional bond with the consumer at a higher level, to build a deeper relationship with the brand or product. But we mustn’t forget nor undervalue the control the consumer now has over the content that they consume. Our audience now has an unprecedented sophistication, they are empowered by technology and access to information which also means that they are generally cynical. These sophisticated consumers are not necessarily blocking out advertising – they are blocking out bad, impersonal or simple, unhelpful advertising. They are now are in control and we as marketers need to work around this.

So native advertising in its current form feels like an easy way out for brands and their agencies. Great advertising never shies away from being exactly that – an ad. To Ogilvy’s point, it’s about how you craft your advertising. I fear native advertising has become a strategy rather than a platform to help deliver an interesting advertising idea to our audience. With that we may be forgetting to tell people what we actually want them to buy!

People more than ever are engaging with advertising even in its purist form (video) –however they are in greater control of when and how they consume the content we serve them. To prove my point, if you look at the aggregate viewing of the top 10 ads on YouTube, it was 470 million views in 2015 –that was up by 50 million!

So as we look to leverage the power of media brands and native environments, the key question should remain the same: what is this content selling? Emotion and engagement is not the answer, by the way, instead we should see emotion and engagement as the tone we use to help sell, rather than the absolute solution to increasing sales.

Ben Cunnington

Ben Cunnington is Regional Strategic Director at Vizeum APAC.