More Native Than Native Advertising

Is there something more native than native advertising?

Yesterday, I was cruising the Internet, browsing through a few of my favorite digital haunts, and I stumbled upon a Fast Company article highlighting a chair designed for public spaces (like airports) that actually shields you from the glances of passers-by.

Being a bit of a privacy enthusiast, I clicked through and started scanning. The article described the chair, featured many different pictures and offered a quote from the designer, waxing nostalgic on her memories of playing inside cardboard boxes as a child. Despite the fact that the article had a byline credited to Margaret Rhodes, an assistant editor for Fast Company, midway through the article I stopped and realized—

I’m being advertised to.

Another curious incident happened over at Mashable. I caught sight of an interesting-looking article about an airplane company’s advertisement “that really flew” (spoiler alert: it uses magnets). I clicked through and watched the whole video.

And it hit me again—I’m being advertised to.

It happened subtly, under the guise of journalistic expertise.

I imagined how I would have reacted had either story been openly sponsored by the brands.

It’s doubtful I’d have clicked through the links. It took some novelty—some degree of newness—and the air of authority to coax me into trusting the content, which I did. Leading me to wonder—

Is there something more native than native advertising? At what point does a piece of content stop being content and start being an advertisement? Perhaps more intriguing, is there an obligation to identify advertisements? Should traditional advertisements even exist anymore?

We don’t want to be sold to. We’re conditioned to distrust an advertisement. We ignore most of them.

Or so we think. The truth is that really what we’re adverse to is the outright pitch. So this marketing wears a different coat.

It’s a tech expert’s review of the latest handheld device or a design expert’s analysis of the latest and greatest in modern office furniture. It’s a “news report” on that big brand’s most recent publicity stunt—you know the one I’m talking about, the one your friends were just talking about.

I’m reminded of something William Shakespeare wrote: All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players. Well, all the web’s a marketplace, and the men and women merely consumers.

The best actors have the ability to convince an audience that emotion is actually being felt. And so maybe the best advertising is not an ad, no—it’s not an advertisement at all—it’s simply a talking point that addresses something new and interesting. And comes with an air of third-party authority, so you should listen. And then, if you are so inclined, you should share and discuss it with your tribe.

Whatever this curious creature is—well, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Be it “true” content, content marketing, or just a mere ad—a rose by any other name would still smell so sweet, right?

It’s effective. It’s subtle. It works—and that’s why it matters.