How to Make Native Ads More Valuable

For a century, advertisers were content with brand lift and visibility from their advertising agencies. And then suddenly we were able to measure response, and direct response became the desired outcome. In every medium except TV, advertisers began to demand “metrics,” even though those metrics were often ambiguous. Mr. Wanamaker wanted a result from the other 50% of his ad dollars.

The latest shoe to drop in the war against pure branding in advertising is the pressure some advertisers are putting on agencies and publishers to show metrics for how their native ad campaigns are working — in other words, to convert native advertising to direct response.

We see where this is going. When sheer sales conversions become the goal, every video is an infomercial, every print ad an advertorial. And the metrics begin to drive down the quality of the creative, the pleasure of the user, and the revenues of the publisher. That’s not the best option, especially for native advertising.

We think there is a better way than direct response, and it is sponsored content, or branded content. The quality of the content should be high, as that of a TV spot has always been high, and the creative should be compelling. But rather than simply compel the viewer to dial a phone number, the content should create an emotional response in the viewer, an affinity for the brand. That affinity, over time, translates into engagement, and over more time translates into a sales conversion. Digital video on a mobile platform is perfect for this.

Yes, the consumer’s response may not be immediate, and much of our culture is now predicated on immediacy: real time response to everything from news of a shooting to clicking on an ad. But immediacy doesn’t last; it creates the shortened news cycle, the has-been celebrity, and the flavor or the day mentality. You can’t build a lasting business on just immediacy, and marketers should already know this. Part of what makes a business sustainable is customers who buy a product or service repeatedly. They buy it out of loyalty, out of an emotionally charged relationship with the brand or the company. They actually “like” the brand, the way people like Tide, for instance, which is 68 years old. Those loyal buyers are the people for whom brand advertising in intended — the repeat customers who form the sustainable part of the business rather than the customers who eat in your restaurant once with a Groupon and never come back.