Digital advertising offers a lot of promise. It promises scale on a level few other advertising mediums can possibly imagine. If you want to run an ad campaign targeting Indian teenagers, and a simultaneous campaign targeting Australian grandmothers, you can do this far, far more easily digitally than with other ad formats. It promises accountability that is unparalleled: Advertisers can and do track their ad spend—and the reach this spend generates—down to the very last cent. Advertisers can attribute and measure a return on all activity they run.
When faced with endless technological changes promising more and more data, targeting and measurable performance, many digital marketers forgot some of the core tents of effective advertising—to tell a story. Instead, particularly in the early days of digital, online ads often resembled boring matter-of-fact product information listings and stale banner boxes. They did nothing for the imagination. But it didn’t matter, apparently, because everything could be tracked and analyzed, and a return on investment counted. Advertisers were happy.
As digital has evolved, the novelty of being online for most consumers has disappeared—and with it the novelty of clicking on banner ads. As consumers and technology become more advanced, those practices no longer work.
The Power of Stories
Legendary ad man David Ogilvy is famous for saying, “You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it.” How do you interest people in a product or service? Make it personal to them. And one of the best ways to do this is to tell them a story. Stories are at the heart of all the very best content marketing activity, and native advertising works best when it is promoting the very best stories.
If we look back at pre-history to a time when we used to collectively gather around the campfire and share stories, our biology and cognitive make-up have changed very little. Now, fast forward to the present day: We are still looking for stories and open to sharing them. But nowadays, where are we congregating?
Increasingly as a collective, we are congregating around the “feed” on our mobile devices—social media feeds such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and more, as well as myriad different publisher feeds and apps. Every time we check into the feed, we are consciously—but also subconsciously, to a certain extent—looking for a story fix. We are looking for a collective story to talk with others about and share.
Native advertising allows brands to bring their stories to the modern-day “collective campfire.” It plugs directly into one of our core human characteristics — our insatiable need for stories.
Creativity Rejoins Performance
As a performance-driven medium, the first 20-plus years of digital advertising have been mostly about return on investment for advertisers. What can we do for better advertiser performance? How can we squeeze more value for the brand? Performance metrics—clicks, impressions, dwell times, shares, leads, sales—are the criteria for success or failure. This is not a bad thing; after all, better returns are what have helped grow the digital advertising market to what it is today—a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry.
But the story has been overlooked. Creativity has generally come in second place to performance. The value exchange and narrative story between the consumer and the advertising formats themselves were never, or only lightly, considered, and got lost somewhere in the blur of intrusive ad formats, performance indicators and analytic metrics.
There has been an overreliance on behavioral metrics such as clicks, visits and interactions. But this is beginning to change. And it will continue to change as the rise of native advertising continues. The corresponding decline in banner advertising performance and the increased prevalence of content marketing and native advertising distribution formats have led to a long overdue re-evaluation of the digital value exchange, and story-based marketing is very much at the forefront of this change.
While native advertising may have been born as the natural advertising medium for content distribution and a mobile-first world, another key reason behind the growth of native advertising concerns technology and creativity. Art and science are now combined. The convergence of cutting-edge technology and creativity to offer story-led advertising opportunities means that what can or cannot be done when it comes to digital advertising is largely limited only to our imaginations. As an ad medium, native advertising gives you far more room to flex your creative muscles. The technology is there to help, not hinder you.
Also Read: The World Beyond Social Media