Event Recap: i612’s Native Advertising with Buzzfeed

On Thursday, May 15, i612 hosted the spirited Going Native: Trends in Content Advertising panel with keynote speaker Andy Wiedlin, BuzzFeed’s Chief Revenue Officer. After a brief introduction, fellow panelists Kelly Andresen, Director of Advertising Innovations & Product Strategy from the Washington Post; Baomy Wehrle, Director of Brand Strategy from the Huffington Post; and Rick Kupchella, founder of the local news website BringMeTheNews.com joined the conversation about native advertising. 

Ah native advertising, the new darling of the online marketing world. Well, perhaps “new” isn’t the best word to use. As all panelists were quick to point out, native advertising has existed long before digital markets got a hold of it. So why has native advertising made waves this past year or so? As BuzzFeed’s Andy Wiedlin pointed out, “For the first time ever, [marketers] can do word of mouth marketing at scale.” And this is a big deal.

Native advertising allows digital marketers to create content that engages consumers in a much more natural way. Good native ads are shared 30-40% of the time, and are clicked on 50% more than banner ads. This is in part because native ads can easily find their niche audience. As Wiedlin said, “When you create niche content, it will find the audience you want.” For example, a tall clothing company writes a “21 Things Only Tall Women Understand” listicle. Who’s going to click on this content? Share this content? Engage with this content? The target audience: tall women. (This sponsored content example was hypothetical, but reflective of the types of native content Buzzfeed sells.)

This has implications beyond native advertising. This technique of creating engaging, niche content can be applied to all digital marketing, from writing PPC ads that resonate with the target audience to developing targeted blog posts to capture hard-to-reach niche audiences. Native advertising is simply a different way to approach and reach a distracted audience and is another tool in the marketer’s toolbox of display, PPC, and content marketing. 

While all four panelists come from very different companies with varied missions, they could all agree on a few facts: 

1. If a publisher doesn’t have a separate editorial and native content/sales staff, they’re doing it wrong.
2. Native advertising measurement is still fuzzy at best, but moving towards hard, standardized metrics.
3. When it comes to native adverting, don’t just hawk your brand. Tell the reader something they didn’t know.

That last point, to educate and entertain, proved to be the meat of the conversation. The Washington Post’s Kelly Andresen explained that while educational native ads perform better than straight brand images, ads that educated and also reflected a news story performed the best. Baomy Wehrle from Huffington Post concurred, saying “Consumers don’t care if [great content] is an ad if they like it and it speaks to them.”

While the panel admitted the extreme expense of native adverting and the difficulty of creating this powerfully resonant content, Andy Wiedlin closed the night on an uplifting note, saying “I feel like creating delightful, fun content belongs in the media mix.” And so do we, Andy.

 

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