One of the greatest native ads ever – voted as The Greatest Ad Of All Time in 1945 – ran just once, in an American bi-weekly magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, in 1915. Most closely fitting within the “advertorial” category of native advertising, but appearing before that term had achieved common currency, it was called The Penalty of Leadership by General Motor’s Theodore F. MacManus. It increased Cadillac sales and was pivotal in asserting the car brand’s values. Highly intelligent, the copy reads as pompous today. It probably did back then, too. But the prose achieved something quite remarkable – an understated grandiose – communicating a class of automobile that no other manufacturer could attain. It asserts Cadillac’s confidence, dismissing its detractors with style and authority. There’s no reference to cars, driving, steering, wheels. Heck – there’s not even a mention of Cadillac in there. It was produced in black and white – eschewing the gaudy color the magazine industry was so proud to print in 1915. It had a boarder around the copy which makes clear that the content is not editorial, and a logo in the top right which transparently demonstrates that Cadillac are behind the content. Look at The Penalty of Leadership, and then compare the New York Times’ native advertising offering, and you know that innovation in long form native advertising comes from Detroit.
Even Vibrant Media – which has been launching commercial content from ads placed natively within premium editorial since 2001 – has a lot to learn from Detroit’s native advertising heritage. No coincidence then that Motown was the venue for the second of Vibrant Media’s native advertising roundtables and that the conversation focused on long form native advertising (“branded content”, “content marketing”, “advertorial”, call it what you will). Vibrant’s roadshow of roundtables are a part of an ongoing research initiative into native advertising. The qualitative data gleaned from the sessions is enabling the exchange of native advertising expertise, so insight is shared and industry best practice can be established. For example, the first roundtable with London’s digital publishing community in May 2014 established five principles of responsible native advertising for publishers. The roundtables also complement ongoing quantitative research, which in August 2014 found that the level of trust US consumers have in branded content is on par with that of editorial.
In Detroit marketers from Ford and Cadillac were pretty clear that the main thrust of their native advertising strategy is producing content. The brands are adopting many of the traits of publishers. For example Ford’s marketing department have an editorial conference in their content studio every morning to assess what’s happening in the world – what’s in the news, trending on social media and what’s happening with their customers – to set their content agenda for the day. It involves marketers from each discipline, from public relations people to ad creatives. Just like major publications, they also establish an editorial calendar of key dates – Christmas, Mothers’ Day, Independence Day and such like – and plan their article, video and image content with those dates in mind.
It became clear at the roundtable that the challenge is not so much about creating long form native advertising that will engage consumers. Whilst expensive, creating content that’s consumable is relatively easy – it just has to be high quality and plug into the targeted consumer’s interests. The real challenge is in attracting enough attention to the content to achieve return on investment. Relying on social media shares is just not viable. The reality is that for the number of attempts to create engaging viral content, less than a fraction of one per cent will actually achieve social media or email virality. Brands need to take the initiative and responsibility for amplifying their content around the mobile and desktop web.
Cadillac’s answer to achieve scale for their long form native ads is to pursue campaigns that engage consumers on established publications’ sites. The automobile brand places sponsored posts on men’s titles, like Uncrate, and exclusively sponsored that publisher’s spin-off title Gallivant. Partnering with video curation site Devour got one of Cadillac’s content marketing assets featured as a leading video on that site. Yanlin Sun, digital marketing manager at the stylish car brand said, “Longer form native advertising, like advertorial, has a significant impact on consumers’ brand perception. Placing branded content within third-party editorial also maintains Cadillac’s cultural relevance. Working with publishers in a transparent fashion creates an advocacy relationship, enabling media titles to share our content for us.”
Although Vibrant Media’s August research report found that half of consumers believe it is important to feel informed that an advertiser has paid for content to be displayed on a website, Vibrant Media’s researchers will be delving into this issue more deeply. Hence the next quantitative report will address transparency and labeling of native ads.