With all the hot air being blown around native advertising, you’d think people would have done their research. But the fact that the video of Fred Wilson first presenting the “native” concept to New York’s advertising community has only had nine Facebook likes, 21 tweets and six Google +1s since it was uploaded suggests that while there are many waxing lyrical about “native”, few have really tried to find out what the man who coined the term was actually talking about, and far fewer have shared the video through social media to demonstrate that their ad strategies fulfil the original definition of “native”.
The premise in the presentation was that the digital media landscape is now so fragmented that to achieve scale marketers must be prepared to place ads that are “native” – effectively bespoke – to each digital environment. Marketers “need to be operating like [they're] in the Nasa control room.” Sure, native advertising offers improved performance, but far from encouraging marketers to jump for joy at the native prospect, Mr Wilson really just made native advertising sound like a lot of work.
The cynical may say that his presentation was simply an opportunity for him to promote the non-cohesive ad services offered by the variety of companies that his venture capital company had invested in – Twitter, which had launched Promoted Tweets a year earlier, Foursquare and the Clickable service. In fact he covered quite a number of formats, but rather than giving all his examples of “native placements”, it’s worth crystallising the qualities that he said made an ad “native”.
First, he says that native is “not putting banners up on the right side [of web pages]. This is the opposite of that.” So whilst some ad providers are saying that they are providing standard banners “with native elements”, the very placement of the ads – around the content rather than within the content – is what relegates these formats outside of Wilson’s original definition of native. At the core of the “orthodox” definition of native is that the ad unit must appear within the focus of consumers’ attention, not the periphery.