What is native advertising? Ask your readers.

  • 5 August 2013

Imagine that there was a way to block ads in print magazines. How many Vogue readers, for example, would use this AdBlock for Print?

None of them. The whole premise is absurd. Without the ads, Vogue is not a meaningful product. That’s why full-page glossy magazine ads are the original native advertising. Readers like them more than any other kind, and consider them a natural part of the product they’re buying.

At the same time, it would be laughable to say that everything is just great with print advertising. Ad dollars are moving to digital and so, regardless of their short-term prospects, magazine publishers also have to make the jump.

The thing is, most digital display advertising is absolutely horrible for readers, doesn’t work well for advertisers, and has never paid the bills for publishers.

Advertisers are going digital, but that’s for measurability and because of demographic shifts (ask the 23-year-old media buyer about these the next time you try to make a print sale), not because digital display ads ever worked particularly well.

So what is a magazine to do?

Well, to start, magazines need to realize that traditional digital display ads are a complete non-starter for them. That’s because on a per-contact basis, they simply are not effective. On the wider web, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker: there’s a race to the bottom on pricing so advertisers can compensate by simply buying more eyeballs.

But individual magazines only have a limited audience to monetize. They can try to ramp up their CPM rates to account for the “premium” demographics of their well-heeled readers, but that does not go very far either. Web display advertising is so ineffective that it does not matter who the recipients are. Zero engagement means still means zero results, even if the audience was all billionaires.

So, let’s go back to my earlier claim that glossy magazine ads are native advertising. Native, in this context, means “a natural part of the product”. What most pushers of native advertising snake oil don’t seem to appreciate is that this naturalness is something that is determined by the audience, not the publishers (and certainly not the third-party ad networks).

It isn’t native advertising unless your readers say it is.

Many magazines have a very highly engaged audience, but that’s not their biggest asset. Their biggest asset is the fact that this is the only audience out there that likes the advertising they are subjected to.

This simply doesn’t happen in any other type of media. If there is one key consideration in the publishers’ digital transformation, it’s this one. Squander this advantage and you might as well close up shop.

Now, let’s get practical. We have experimented with full-page advertising on tablets (by having built the platform for over 1,000 rich media tablet campaigns since 2010) and have been convinced that it is the true successor to glossy magazine ads:

  • Like print magazine ads, these ads do not annoy when placed in a linear structure such as a simple page-turner app. Note that this is not a feature of the ad unit itself, but of the surrounding structure. Full page ads can’t ever interrupt purposeful navigation or the readers turn against them. This is just one of many reasons to go linear.

  • Like digital display ads, tablet ads are highly measurable. But the engagement metrics we see are orders of magnitude better than web display ads.

  • Being full screen means undivided attention. Having fewer technical limitations (on file size, for example) than web display ads allows for more effective creative.

  • Because you can do literally anything you could do on the web in a full-page rich media ad, you have the opportunity to shorten conversion funnels. Making an actual sale within the pages of your magazine, with no “click-throughs” to anywhere else? Possible today.

Show, don’t tell

Advertising that works and is liked by the audience—actually bought by the audience—is native advertising. Where fake editorial tells, good rich media creative shows. It’s clear to me which deserves to be called native advertising, but don’t take my word for it. Just ask your readers.