I’m a fan of “Mike and Mike,” a morning radio program on ESPN. It stars veteran sports journalist Mike Greenberg and former NFL star Mike Golic. The two form a knowledgeable and laugh-out-loud-funny odd couple, pairing Greenberg’s fastidiousness with Golic’s rough-edged masculinity, the kind you’ll find in the men who turn up in Budweiser and Miller beer commercials.
They also seem to advertise just about everything during their show’s commercial breaks. I’ve heard them pitch ladders, sausages, chain restaurants, flower delivery services, tractors, office space management, home security systems, and more. The ads tend to riff on the same personal qualities that make their broadcast so entertaining.
This sort of marketing has a name: native advertising, which, as the name suggests, reflects many of the qualities of the content in which it appears. In part because of its built-in familiarity, native advertising has been shown to result in higher, more effective audience engagement than non-native formats.
On the other hand, critics have faulted native advertising for being deceptive. Its semblance of editorial content, they say, disguises ads and dupes the customers who consume it.
Native already represents a significant category of digital marketing, and I believe that it will become the dominant form of advertising in mobile. That’s partly because native is well-suited to mobile form factors and partly because other formats, typically born on desktop and laptop computers, all have liabilities when presented on smartphones.
About those liabilities:
- Mobile banners ads, while relatively cost effective, don’t excite marketers or customers because they are easily overlooked when they aren’t downright distracting.
- Mobile video can be limited by bandwidth constraints and is often shot by directors who assume the content will be consumed primarily on larger screens. It also can pull consumers away from a publisher’s content.
- Mobile search can be great, but also can deliver odd results if it isn’t informed by the user’s location.
Native, on the other hand, holds great promise, as Facebook has shown. Its consistency with the content around it, unlike a banner, makes it less distracting and easier to consume. These similarities also imply endorsement, which casts a halo over the advertised product or service.
The format needs help, though, in the form of scalable and standardized mobile-first native advertising solutions. While the Interactive Advertising Bureau, or IAB, has produced useful guidelines to help marketers create effective, transparent native advertising, the guidelines mention mobile just once. The unique dynamic of small screens, location awareness, and greater customer skepticism make advertising on smartphones different, relative to laptops or tablets, and requires a standalone set of design and operating principles.
It also needs publishers to behave differently. They need to make sure consumers know the difference between editorial and advertising. They also need to curate and mediate native advertising to ensure that they run only ads that are appropriate for their audience. Transparency and targeting are critical.
I believe the biggest innovation that lies ahead for mobile is a redefinition of what constitutes advertising. We’ve already seen progress. When brands publish mobile apps, for example, they are advertising. Programmatic media buying, which relies on mechanics similar to computerized equity trading systems, is revolutionizing the way media is transacted, targeted, measured and optimized.
What we need now is a better, mobile-first approach for all publishers and advertisers to support consistent, transparent native formats.