Times are a'changing. From ad blockers to banner blindness, the digital publishing landscape is seriously having to reconsider its revenue streams. And it seems like purpose and authenticity are the name of the day. Welcome to the world of native content...
Pick a magazine. Any magazine. Flip it open. Whether it’s a fashion, music or business publication, chances are you won’t actually get to any of the content you’re looking for without first having to blindly flick through a clutch of glossy advertisements. Open up your favourite source of online news, and you’ll see the digital equivalent – banner ads and pesky pop-ups that distract you from the article you’re trying to read. The ad industry as we know it is in a state of flux; ad blockers are becoming more mainstream, with nearly 200 million users installing them on their browsers (costing publishers around $41.4 billion in lost revenue in 2016). And banner blindness? Well, it’s a real thing.
With spending on traditional display advertising plummeting – in 2016, £877 million was spent on printed adverts, compared to a projected £794 million in 2018 according to Statista – the days of static advertising in print (and digital) media, it would seem, are over. “Publishers can no longer rely on straight display print advertising,” writes Emma Cranston, head of publishing at Manning Gottlieb OMD for Campaign. “As a result, innovation and diversification will continue to be key for magazine sales houses.”
Rather than relying on static ads that repel readers, publishers and brands are now looking to grab their audiences by producing authentic, transparent and organic ad content that seamlessly blends in with the rest of a title’s editorial offerings. By leveraging all of their platforms – from print and online to social media and bricks-and-mortar – magazines and newspapers are partnering with brands to create completely bespoke, surprising and in-depth experiences that bring value to time-poor readers who have equally poor attention spans. And here’s the thing: they’re not trying to hide the fact that this content is paid for.
This is native advertising, and estimates suggest its revenues will reach nearly three-quarters of the US ad market by 2021. “Running a piece of native advertising is important as it talks from a publisher’s point of view,” said Nathan Ansell, M&S’ global director of loyalty, insight and customer analytics, to an audience at 2016’s Cannes Lions festival. “It has an authenticity that traditional advertising doesn’t have, and it’s very shareable.”
So, with that in mind, here are three of the most creative, boundary-pushing native campaigns to come across our radar so far:
The New York Times x Airbnb An interactive experience that makes full use of the internet’s multimedia capabilities, Airbnb partnered with The New York Times to tell the story of Ellis Island in four chapters – via interviews with academics, archive photography, colourful infographics and audio interviews with immigrants who passed through the island’s hallways from 1917 to 1939. Focusing on the hospitality that New York City extended to its visitors to instil a sense of belonging in a foreign land, it’s a fascinating journey through time – and completely in tune with Airbnb’s values.
The Wall Street Journal x Netflix To promote its show detailing the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar and his infamous Medellín drug cartel, the streaming giant collaborated with The Wall Street Journal to create an interactive website – Cocainenomics – exploring the ballsy and brutal history of the international drug trade. Like the Airbnb piece, Cocainenomics is brimming with multimedia tidbits: animated maps, timelines, in-depth and long-form articles written by the publication’s journalists – all peppered with short, relevant clips from the series and produced to a standard befitting of the WSJ.
National Geographic x Nike For a completely organic (and epic) native ad experience, the unlikely collaboration between National Geographic and Nike is hard to beat. Co-producing a documentary film that told the story of Nike’s attempt to break the two-hour marathon barrier, the film – titled Breaking2 – eschewed gaudy product placement. In its place, a thrilling exploration of the intense levels of preparation that three Nike athletes had to endure in order to achieve the impossible. The film was accompanied by a long-form article in Nat Geo that explored the science behind hyper-elite long distance runners. “We’re true content partners, interested in telling a story,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks.