The phrase is the very definition of saying a lot while saying nothing at all. For the next few minutes, dive into a rabbit hole with me. Open up your biases and assume the fourth dimension, let’s take the red pill together.
Imagine a world where there is no difference between advertising and content; where original productions and brand messaging dance together in a harmonious tango, choreographed by data. Imagine a world where content is advertising, and advertising is content. Sounds utopic, no? This actually isn’t too far from our reality. Through the recent industry-wide embrace of native ads, we are slowly laying down the foundations for this world.
A recent study in the UK highlighted that six out of ten millennials will engage with native ads when content appeals. In another US study, 32% of those surveyed would share a native ad with a friend or family member. These topline stats show that generally, we are okay with the notion of advertising as long as the content is valuable. Through the years, ads have gotten a bad rap – the “spammy” nature so often associated with commercials, banners, and unwanted direct mail represent an interruption to someone’s life. Content advertising flips that concept on its head – instead of an interruption, it’s an accessory.
Don’t get me wrong, there will always be the option for pre-rolls and adlets. However, as we get more sophisticated with our communication platforms, the content that will gain traction are those that are responsible and creative.
Marketers do not need to “trick” people into engaging with their content, people will seek out this information if they need it; as much as 70% of individuals want to learn about products through content rather than traditional ads.
If research shows that people seek out product information voluntarily through content, and furthermore, a majority of them are willing to engage with “native/content advertising”; then it follows that brands can successfully have an impact through embedding themselves directly with content. As a marketer, how do we even push this further? By eliminating the idea of advertising altogether. Because when we really examine it, what is the philosophical difference between ads and content? Both stem from an essential need to communicate, both are created by our fellow man, with the intention to distribute information. They are just presented in different formats; and my proposal is that we take off that dirty label “ads”, and start treating “ads” as important, relevant pieces of content.
Traditionally, ads have been completely untargeted – not to the fault of any marketer, but the platforms have never allowed customizability. Consumers are bombarded without the option to turn away – a study in 2007 found that we are likely to see up to 5,000 brand messages per day. All TV programming had commercial breaks; every magazine had inserts; billboards littered highways and side streets. There was no way for anyone to interact with these ads, or for marketers to gauge true interest. Until the dawn of the Internet Age, media channels have always blasted out ads with no recourse. This has unintentionally contributed to a separation of the way we view ads and content – again ads are seen as interruptions. However, what if we are able to seamlessly stitch together these two so that brands are integral to the narrative itself? What if, when we are watching an episode of The Blacklist, we’re not taken out of that story to be force-fed a commercial about the latest IBM technology, but we see it in action when its unique capabilities enable our hero to escape from a sticky situation? This goes beyond awkward product placement – the alignment of brand needs to feel organic and natural, and through these touchpoints, brands will be able to become an essential part of the tale, instead of simply a footnote. At that stage, there is no advertising, there is only storytelling, and there is no difference between the Aston Martin and the Bond girl.
Humans have always shown a thirst for knowledge and a need for improving upon current conditions – we were born to run. We took this planet from a precipitously decorated habitation to a technologically advanced paradise; and we did all this through data collection, interpretation, and evolution. We invented words, then we invented copywriting. We invented radio, then we invented jingles. We invented TV, then we invented IPG banners. We invented the world wide web, which gave birth to endless innovations. We have never shown a willingness to stick to the status quo, we have always pushed further. So stick with me here, as this current model of advertising evolves, one Buzzfeed listicle at a time.