A century of native advertising


Jesper Laursen is the founder of the Native Advertising Institute. What Joe Pullizi is to content marketing, Jesper Laursen is to native advertising. Telling stories that build companies, content marketing and native advertising light up his eyes. He is a storyteller, a businessman, a journalist and a highly-sought lecturer.

How would you explain native advertising to someone who has never heard of this term?

Jesper Laursen: Native advertising is when you pay a media company – a traditional newspaper, social media or other company to distribute your content with the purpose of driving some sort of profitable customer action from the audience. The content needs to look and feel like the content of the media. If it’s in a print publication it will be an article, if it’s on a web TV channel it will be like the video on that channel, and so on.

Sometimes the content is produced by the brand, sometimes by the media company and sometimes by an agency.

You can dive into native advertising for two reasons: either as a replacement for traditional advertising campaigns or as part of your content marketing program.

Can you sum up the story of native advertising? How it began, how it evolved and where is it now?

Jesper Laursen: It is really a discipline that is more than 100 years old. Some of the best known historical examples are the soap operas that began in the 1940s and 1950s such as “The World Turns” or “Guiding Light”, produced and paid for by P&G. Other examples are even older.

Today it’s exploding for many of the same reasons that content marketing is growing. One reason is that the customers want relevant, valuable content and not sales messages stuffed down their throat. Another is that ad blockers are killing traditional advertising, and finally social media has become a pay to play game and the name of that game is native advertising.

In what way does native advertising differ from any other kind of advertising?

Jesper Laursen: Well, just like with traditional advertising you are paying the same media companies to reach the same kind of audience. But with native advertising it’s all about an inside-out perspective just like with content marketing. You need to communicate to the consumer about something that they find relevant and important. And the content that you use for native advertising cannot be strictly sales-based like traditional ads.

The popularity of ad blockers has taught us that consumers do not like the ads that have been served to them for years. They want something that is valuable in itself and that is what native advertising is – if it’s done the right way.

What is the difference between native advertising and content marketing?

Jesper Laursen: Content marketing takes place on your own platforms, is all about building an audience and it should be an “always on” project, meaning that you distribute content in a consistent way. Native advertising takes place on someone else’s platforms and it is a campaign. As soon as you stop paying to get your content viewed, the media company will “turn off the light”. They might keep it online for the search engines to find but they will stop promoting it.

Where do you see the advantages in native advertising?

Jesper Laursen: Well, there are quite a few. Here are some examples.

1. From a content marketing perspective you can leverage native advertising to build your audience much faster and in a more controlled manner than if you just gamble  on the old “if you build it they will come” approach. That solution is, if not dead, then much less effective than just two years ago. First of all this is because organic reach on social media has  practically gone – especially on Facebook. Secondly, because there is so much content out there it has become so much more difficult to win with Google search. Some industries are easier than others.

Native advertising lets you identify an audience and then get your content in front of them at once and by that obtain your objectives, be it leads, brand awareness, audience building or something else.

2. Another advantage of native advertising is that it lets you tap into a pool of information that companies usually do not have on their own platforms – at least for the first couple of years. LinkedIn and Facebook have massive amounts of information about their users and you can gain access to that. Traditional media also has similar information, only to a much lesser  degree.

3. Native advertising can also give you an opportunity to bypass ad blockers. If they’re put on the site in an automated fashion (like many programmatic platforms do) then many ad blockers will be able to detect the little piece of code that is put in them and block them. If they are put on the media more or less manually in the publisher's cms then they will pass most of the time.

4. As mentioned earlier, many people don’t want ads that just serve the purpose of the brand. They want content that solves their problems or entertains and engages them. Native ads let you do just that so you can build the relationships and the trust that will lead to business.

What are the characteristics of a good/successful native advertising project?

Jesper Laursen: I think I have mentioned most of them, but it needs to:

Are there any risks in “betting” on native advertising? What does it depend on?

Jesper Laursen: Well, if you do not have some element of a “rent to own strategy” in your project you will build your house on rented land and that is potentially a problem. In other words, if you do not use the project to get the audience from the media company’s platform and on to your own permission database so that you can communicate to them afterwards, then you will only get value if the media company  let you – meaning as long as you are willing to pay them.

Can you think of a good example? What made it successful?

Jesper Laursen: We’re just looking at the cases that were sent in to our Native Advertising Awards and there are a lot of really good things in there, but unfortunately we won't  publish those until November. One of the best known is probably 'Women Inmates' that New York Times’ T Brand Studio produced for Netflix. It was among the 1,5% most read pieces on nyt.com for an entire year and generated massive awareness for Netflix’ series 'Orange is the New Black'.

When a brand decides to do native advertising, where do they start?

Jesper Laursen: Start with the 'why'. Why do you want to do it? Who do you want to target and what do you want to achieve? Once you’ve got that you can find the media or the combination of media channels that you want to engage with.

Secondly, find some good partners to work with. A new kid on the agency block is the media company in-house agency. Some are not so  advanced, others are brilliant. Often they will be much better than traditional advertising agencies or media buying agencies.

If you want to do it alone you can learn a lot from the resource centres that social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter have made.

Are brands sceptical about doing native advertising projects? Why do you think that is?

Jesper Laursen: Some are, but they are becoming less and less sceptical. When they are it’s for many of the same reasons that make them sceptical of content marketing. Mostly because it is new and it is not that easy to prove ROI but then again the same could be said of  traditional advertising.  

How much creative freedom do you get in native advertising? Do your clients often “interfere” with that?

Jesper Laursen: We just published the first ever global research on native advertising in the magazine industry and it shows that one of the biggest challenges for media companies is to convince brands to tell real stories. Many brands say yes to native advertising but when it comes down to it they want a sales message dressed up as a piece of content. When that happens and you can’t convince them otherwise, say no, because it’s never going to work.

Where do you see the future of native advertising? How will it evolve?

Jesper Laursen: Our research shows that by  2020 more than 50% of  global marketing budgets will go to native advertising and content. Let’s say we’re wrong and it’s only 40%. That is still the biggest shift of budgeting in the history of marketing as far as I’m aware. 

Do you have any advice for marketers on how to include native advertising in their work?

Jesper Laursen: If you do content marketing you will have to include native advertising as  part of your distribution plan. It’s inevitable.

Other than that it’s like Nike says: Just do it. You may fail miserably at first but there will also be successes and in  the end you’ll get it right. I was speaking in a native advertising panel at Content Marketing World recently and one of the other participants said: “nobody ever died from native advertising”. He’s right, and on the other hand lots of marketers have created great results. So will you if you practice.