November 02, 2015

The Natives Are Feckless

For 20 years the advertising industry has been downgrading the importance of creativity in favor of more "measurable" factors. One of the sad consequences of this misguided adventure is the search for media miracles.

You see, if you can't muster the talent to develop good ideas, the next best strategy for impressing clients is to blind them with science.

So we've had a parade of failed digital media miracles.
  • Social media is great if you're a celebrity and mostly useless if you're not.
  • Content is like one of those drippy Christmas letters from a family you don't like.
I can't think of a single major off-line brand of anything that any of these digital media marvels has created.

The revolt against online advertising by consumers — in the form of ad blockers — has created a stampede by marketers toward a new miracle:  “native advertising.”

Native advertising is just a euphemism for advertising masquerading as editorial. Of course, the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of this baloney have all kinds of logic-torturing explanations for why it's not what it obviously is.

In fact,  it is the oldest sleaze tactic in the history of the sport. Historically, some of the less particular print media would offer advertisers editorial mentions in exchange for a nice advertising buy. Or they would sell "advertorials" -- ads technically identified as such, but mostly disguised as editorial.

This is not new for either the online ad industry or the ad industry in general. What's new is that it is now becoming widespread and acceptable.

Here's why it will fail:

Journalists are not marketers. News media are luring naive clients into native advertising by promising them that "real journalists" will be writing their stories. As if "real journalists" are another species from copywriters. When I was a creative director I can't tell you how many "real journalists" wanted jobs at my agency. Most of them weren't good enough.

Consumers don't care. When are we going to learn that no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising? Most of this native advertising stuff will be thinly disguised bullshit and no one with a brain will fall for it.

In the fullness of time we will find out that, like all the other failed online miracles, native advertising is a lot of talk and not much action.

The truth is, we still haven't figured out how to use the web effectively as a brand building advertising medium. When we do, I'll let you know.

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