Brands need to be wary of the pitfalls of ‘going native’

The term ‘native advertising’ is one that’s fast becoming one of the de-rigueur marketing phrases of 2013, as brands seek ever-more sophisticated ways of penetrating the psyche of audiences in the UK, where many people claim to be resistant to all forms of advertising – at least on a conscious level.  


Despite this typically British cynicism, we all know that advertising and marketing does influence consumers and ‘native advertising’ does seem a way for the media industry – both brands media owners alike – to support one another. 

To briefly recap, ‘native advertising’ is commercial messaging closely juxtaposed with editorial content – with the ultimate aim being that it is so cleverly produced and flawlessly targeted that it becomes indistinguishable from more objective content. 

Win, win, right? Well, maybe not. 

As I often write in this column, the road ahead is surely filled with major pitfalls and it was while attending an IAB conference on this matter earlier this week, that some of them became apparent to me. 

During the event assorted speakers from the likes of AoL, LinkedIn, Twitter plus companies Martini and Unruly Media gave impressive case studies of how this process has worked for them and their clientele. 

However, during the Q&A opportunities – which gave the advertisers an opportunity to interrogate the proposals they’d just seen – strikingly few seemed concerned over the process of delineating between advertising and editorial content. 

Although we are inherently talking about blurring the lines between the two when discussing ‘native advertising’, arguably a distant cousin of PR itself, I was concerned that there were not more advertisers voicing concern on how not to come across as pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes. 

In fact it was only Unruly Media EMEA managing director Phil Townend and the IAB’s industry programmes consultant Clare O’Brien that raised the matter of best practice as a concern. Normally, I’d have thought the issue of not wanting to appear to be deceiving consumers would be front of mind for any self-respecting guardian of a brand. 

But on the showing of that conference, plus the fact there appears to be no industry-wide best-practice guidelines for brands to adhere to in this arena, shows this seems to be back of mind for the moment. 

Maybe it is for bodies such as the IAB to step in and raise this as an issue, but sources within the industry tell me that such initiatives find it difficult to make any headway without brand backing – which is the ultimate source of their funding after all. 

My suspicion is that without the backing of brand-side marketers maybe this idea will stay in stasis until such people start to take note. Maybe we’re just a few Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) judgements away from the issue being forced? Either way, some will have to learn their lessons the hard way.