NYT, OITNB and the state of native advertising

Via ‘Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery’

Generally, buzzwords are meaningless terms uttered by people without the vocabulary to creatively describe trends or insights, and I include myself in that definition too.

Search slideshare, or witness any agency marketing presentation and it’s likely you’ll hear more than your fair share of ‘content’, ‘native’, ‘big data’, ‘synergy’, ‘engagement’ and countless other terms that have lost all meaning.

On the other hand, sometimes buzzwords are the only real way to describe an execution.

I’ve written a lot in the past year about the future of media, paywalls, native advertising, content marketing and other such buzz terms, but the NYT has really outdone itself this time, with an interactive, parallax scrolling native advert for hit series Orange is the New Black. Sounds good eh?

Native

The debate about what ‘native advertising’ does and doesn’t not consist of rages on. For me, my feelings are pretty clear. Native is content that’s created in the guise of a website’s ‘natural fabric’, that’s differentiated from advertorial by being narrative driven rather than specifically sales focused.

Importantly for me, it must be clearly labelled as sponsored content to avoid ethical issues, though some would say even then there’s concerns about the ethics of journalism.

Another plus point is that native offers an opportunity to capitalise
on the increasing percentage of visits that come from smaller screens, and
also the trend towards having a ‘responsive’ site design.

Native has stemmed from the fact that traditional digital advertising no longer provides a sustainable revenue model on its own for most sites.

It’s seen as a lifeline for producers, a shiny new premium product that seems to be of benefit to all parties – readers get great stories about brands they’re interested in, brands get better interaction and higher equity than an outdated display campaign and publishers get bigger bucks and better content for their publication.

Of course, I’m certainly not a zealot when it comes to native, and there are failings with the system. However, it’s an interesting trend in digital advertising that can’t go unnoticed if you’ve your finger anywhere near the pulse.

NYT

The New York Times, fresh from a recent digital document leak, seems to be leading the charge in trials of native for big brands. Their recent partnership with Netflix for the launch of ‘Orange is the new black’ is a new departure.

Whereas previously, the NYT and others have invested heavily in multimedia journalism and storytelling, this is an expensive business, particularly because adverts are difficult to shoehorn into such great content.

Look at the famous ‘Snowfall‘ example. This must have cost hundreds of journalistic, technology and development man hours to create, yet there are little or no ad units on the page. It’s basically a labour of love.

So does the sweet spot for this new era lie in ‘brand sponsored’ native ads, or ‘brand journalism’? Many would disagree, and I can certainly see the counter point. For me though, as a marketer first and foremost, it’s certainly worth exploring. 

Revolutionary

The OITNB partnership has been hailed as revolutionary. The multimedia piece centres on women in prison, the setting for the original series, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, . Complete with video, audio, infographics and lots of quotes and data visualisation, this piece, a journalistic feat by any measure, may appeal to a large segment of the reading population, not just those familiarised with the series. It tells an incredible story in a compelling way. The ad is mobile-friendly, and a good example of why journalism needs to evolve beyond words on a page.

Perhaps more importantly, it may silence those who live in the fabricated, utopian world where great online journalism is always revenue generating and doesn’t need to be supported by brands. Other than a few notable examples, this was never the case, why should it start being so now?

It’s also one of the first to come from the Times’ newly formed Brand Studio unit, which was built to create native ads for advertisers. Other brands, like Buzzfeed, The Onion, Digiday and The Atlantic have explored this obvious revenue stream by creating mini content agencies, and it’s another related, interesting area of exploration for media.

Even journalists are proclaiming their positive impression towards the piece (Carr, below, may be biased, but would have no trouble calling out his own brand if it warranted it).

As Digiday says, ‘the premise of native advertising is that it uses the techniques of journalism, distributed in the editorial stream, to get the attention of ad-weary readers (or, for critics, deceive them)’. Depending on your standpoint though, there’s certainly an argument that native advertising is actually better for all than the advertorial & annoying advert driven strategy that many media brands persist with.

If this was Nike telling the story of their happy Asian workers, it would be an issue. But surely there’s space for the ethics of journalism and the narrative driven focus of content marketing to overlap?

Other examples

This isn’t nearly the first example of such a project.

Converse partnered with Complex magazine last year to create a nice example.

Netflix have, as recently as last month, partnered with Wired for a piece on the future of T.V.

Even the Irish Times are getting in on the act, with this Trocaire partnership, a first of its kind in the Irish market as far as I can see. 

This might just be the tipping point for brand sponsored native content. Now, how about that for a buzzword laden sentence?