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Advertising, Interrupted

Digital State author Simon Pont on Native Advertising

Last week, I spent more time than absolutely necessary discussing whether a lion could beat up a tiger. It's hard to put a billable ROI against that kind of agency chat.

During the week, I also read an article on 'Native Advertising' by Greg Grimmer, an old friend who's never short on fresh thinking.

Lions and tigers, old friends and new views, I love how certain tangents collide. Yet in truth, these tangents aren't tangents.

First, 'Native Advertising': a tag initially applied to the evolution of 'online display advertising', where online display comes over as too 'advertisingy' (hence people ignore and resent it) and the answer becomes advertising that's less ‘advertisingy’ and more like the editorial we all consume by choice.

The great danger in this is how former 'offline' attempts at 'advertising as editorial' have played out. Enter: 'The advertorial', that most insipid kind of masquerade. I've never been a fan such fakery. But like discovering a brave new universe, born from the black hole of a previously bad idea, we now have a new and potentially inspired prefix to consider.

'Online' is a medium troubled by the same spectral dilemma that haunts the wider advertising community, because a advertising is 'Interruption', and people hate being interrupted. No one welcomes that moment when the movie they're watching on TV (live or recorded) is gate-crashed by a 3+ minute blast of snake-oil selling.

Which begs the big question: Can advertising ever be a welcome interruption? Can it go native?

I like this word 'Native', and not just because it makes my Northern Hemisphere light-deprived sensibilities think of people wearing flip flops and sarongs and smelling of sun lotion.

'Native' posits a 'new way of being' for 'advertising', giving brands a new lingua franca or 'second language'. In keeping step with these fast-moving times, advertising is being invited to shrug off its now outmoded garbs, proposing it is now possible for advertising to be 'non-advertising advertising' - no longer the unwelcome intruder, instead the source of any manner of cool stuff that causes us to grin and cheer.

I've talked before about brands needing to be 'Power-Givers, to really bring it to the table, the party, to wherever and whomever. For brands, this is literally about creating very human experiences - encounters or interactions - that make life better somehow. Intrigue me. Inform me. Educate me. Entertain me. Where these experiences are brought to me BY A BRAND, is this still 'advertising?

Sixty years ago, 'The Thirty Second Ad' was a magic bullet that consistently hit its mark. Any suggestion that a 60 year old convention is still effective is potty. Today's 'Magic Bullet' needs to look very different.

Which brings me to 'Lions & Tigers'. You see, if someone asks me whether a lion can beat up a tiger, I'm interested as hell, drawn close and want to know more. I don't necessarily want to see 90 seconds of footage of a tiger and a lion going at it, but I'd very much like to see a short documentary funded by, say, Patagonia or Timberland, that explores the question.

If I say to you, as a friend recently asked me, have you seen that mountain biker being hunted by a Peregrine Falcon, aren't you curious how that worked out for rider and bird, and to click HERE if you don't know? And we don't need to interpret 'native' only in the 'High Concept', Simpson-Bruckheimer sense.

In a higher browed corner of this same native universe, consider Marriot hotels' interpretation of "Sponsored Content"; a partnership with Fast Company where they've created the TravelBrilliantly series, corralling some very clever people to explore what travel might mean these digital days.

#TravelBrilliantly is 'branded content' because it's content that the Marriott brand has made happen, but it's also just plain-and-simple content that I gravitate towards and want to talk about. It could just as easily be from WIRED. I become grateful to Marriot for being the catalyst, and I start thinking Marriot is a brand with a much higher IQ, irrespective of whether they're slip-steaming the smarts of others or not. (Check out Faris Yakob on Time Travel and 'Memory Hacking".)

I'm in the front row here-cheering where Greg's article asserts, "distribution is as crucial as the creation of content. Don't expect the Field of Dreams effect". But in the same way that talent outs and cream rises, if you conceive the content equivalent of a Shard or a Gherkin, I'd suggest you're stacking the odds of making an impression on anyone's horizon.

Any brand that bank-rolls the creation of something 'Very Cool', that I'd naturally pay to see or read, is a brand I'll happily say thank-you to, and more likely buy.

"Netflix wins 3 Emmys for House of Cards, the first company to win the awards for online-only shows. (The Verge, 22.09.13)

Where Jay Leno declared, "I don't know what TV is anymore", it might be a very good thing if we all embrace the idea of not knowing what 'advertising' is anymore either.

Blockbuster never went knocking on Kevin Spacey's door. Look how that turned out. Netflix figured the best possible ad they could make was a brilliant TV series (and one of the best and longest TV "ads" of all time?). "Give people what they want" said Spacey, "when they want it, in the form they want it in. It's all content."

Content that I naturally crave: this is the stuff that sells itself. And it'll sell the brands that make it.

Learn more about Simon's books: The Better Mousetrap and Digital State