You’ve arrived at a blog about transforming the companies that publish newspapers. And it’s a blog with an unorthodox point of view.
Here it is: News will not save you.
Why not? Because the disruption that’s pounding newspaper companies is not about people Read the rest of this entry
“I want my ad to go right here,” Jerry Coolman said. He pointed at the middle two columns at the top of the newspaper page — right in the middle of an article. He wanted his ad for lawn tractors to hit readers smack between the eyes.
“Jerry, we can’t do that,” I said. “That’s the reader’s space — we can’t plunk an ad down in the middle of it.”
That was 1983. Now, twenty years later, it turns out we can plunk an ad down in the reader’s space. It’s being done more and more, and it’s being called by a new name: “native advertising.”
Some are hailing it as a breakthrough for advertisers and for media company revenues. Others are reviling it as a sell-out — a breach of the wall between sacrosanct editorial content and for-profit advertising.
In fact, it may be any or all of those things, or not. It depends on how it’s done.
At first, I took “native advertising” to be just a new name for Jerry Coolman’s — and countless other advertisers’ — desire to stick their commercial messages into editorial space.
But lately I’ve come to see native advertising as something much more – and something inevitable. The reason, as with so many other media changes we’re seeing, is because the mass media era is ending and the era of infinite bandwidth is beginning.
Native advertising, also known as “content marketing,” was as inevitable as the appearance of things like Craigslist, YouTube, Facebook, Yelp, Pinterest and even goofy things like Snapchat.
These changes are happening because the cost of disseminating information is falling to near zero, driving the quantity of information toward infinity. This shift is so massive and far-reaching that its effects are hard to comprehend. I’ve written about them often, starting with these two posts: The Mass Media Bubble and The End of the Mass Media Era.
But how does this giant shift explain native advertising? Let’s take it in two parts — the content of native ads and the placement of native ads.
With the constraints of limited bandwidth gone, scads of new content types are emerging. Unlimited bandwidth makes entirely new categories of content possible, and creative minds are rapidly inventing them.
In the list above, every one of them consists of – and is successful because of – new types of content. Craigslist is people posting their own ads – not new, but never before available for free and with unlimited space. YouTube is people sharing their interests in video form. Facebook is people passing trivial or significant personal developments to their friends. Yelp is people relating restaurant or business experiences. And so on.
These things just weren’t going to happen when bandwidth was expensive.
Similarly, there’s now room for entirely different approaches to advertising content. With bandwidth limits gone, advertisers are now free to rethink content with the question, “What would engage the customer with my product/brand/service/company?”
As a result, they are beginning to operate in a heretofore rarely explored space between editorial content, which is devoutly non-commercial, and traditional ad copy, which is pure “WHY TO BUY.”
In Don Draper’s day, agencies and companies worked hard to reduce a company or product to a single ad slogan or iconic image (e.g., the Marlboro Man). The message had to be simple because it had to be shouted through a megaphone at a huge, undifferentiated audience.
Back then, they could work with — at most — one or a few photos and maybe 100 words of copy in print or 60 seconds of video and 150 words of copy on television. Now they can use long copy, scores or hundreds of photos, and multiple videos and audio files.
Companies and agencies are realizing they can now unpack their brands and product lines in ways that will connect on an almost one-to-one basis with their target customers’ diverse interests and characteristics.
In this era, advertisers and agencies are challenged to think through how unlimited bandwidth can be used to deliver actual value, such as knowledge or entertainment, to potential buyers. It’s a new, customer-centric era of advertising.
And it’s not just “content” any more — it’s also experiences and interactions, games, quizzes and contests. It can be anything a company can think up that will help someone understand, relate to or be excited about a product or brand.
Long-form ad content isn’t really new, of course. Advertisers occasionally have used long copy, brochures, booklets and white papers to explain their products. But that was expensive, and it was hard to get the content to the customer. Today, long-form content is just a click away from an ad.
Additionally, advertisers are no longer limited to reaching customers through OPM (other people’s media). They can create direct relationships with customers through their own digital channels, from websites to emails to apps (see www.redbull.com). And they can use native advertising on OPM to bring customers into digital channels they create.
To me, the term “native advertising” encapsulates all of this. It signifies a new era for communication between businesses and their potential customers, requiring a level of customer focus and content sophistication never before seen in the advertising industry. New skills are required in writing, conceiving and producing content that provides enough value to win a customer’s time and attention.
Okay, let’s say we’ve developed some great native advertising content for our potential customers. Now, what about placement?
That’s less about the macro factors of the global information environment and more about the nitty gritty of making the ads work.
In the mass media era, placement was pretty simple. The mass media, with their limited bandwidths, were like looking through a keyhole. Users could hardly avoid the ads.
On the web, pages tend to contain far more elements, and eyeflows tend to stay much narrower in the attempt to locate desired content. Banner ads — unless they are massive and horribly intrusive — are easily ignored. As a result, most people think they don’t work, and low click-through rates seem to bear this out.
No wonder advertisers are eager to put their messages into the flow of editorial content. And no wonder publishers are more willing to consider it. Many of them realize that ads need to work better if we hope to keep supporting good editorial content through ad revenues.
And why not? The digital environment is functionally so different from the print environment that some of the old rules can be rethought.
However, a sacrosanct rule in both spaces is, don’t fool anyone.
Don’t let native advertising be mistaken for the publisher’s own, non-commercial content. Label it “sponsored content,” or “presented by (brand name),” or anything that makes it clear. Use color contrasts, lines, shading, or whatever helps to make it distinct from pure editorial content. Be transparent to the reader, giving him/her a fair shot to decide whether to click into the content.
The best test of a placement format is to mock it up and take a look. As Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court said about obscenity, it’s hard to define unfair ad presentation, but you know it when you see it.
These days, on the presentation side, the media are still figuring out what’s fair to readers while also working for advertisers. There will be bad examples and good ones. I’m not worried — we’ll work it out.
On the content side, native advertising is an unstoppable development. Sellers will be working harder and harder to develop content that customers will feel is worth consuming. And that’s a good thing, both for them and for their customers.
About five years ago, on a weekend, Derek May — then publisher of the St. Augustine (FL) Record — was doing what many publishers were doing at the time: Trying to figure out the steep decline in advertising revenue he was seeing in his unit’s financials.
What was the main cause of the decline? The recession was the driver, of course, but was it mainly hitting certain categories of advertising? Certain types of advertisers? Big advertisers? Small advertisers? Read the rest of this entry
To someone who only has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the newspaper industry, the hammer we have is news. And right now, the new nail is mobile.
With mobile usage exploding, our industry is determined to pound that nail with news as hard and fast as we can. It looks like a must-do, a matter of survival, and — we hope — a new opportunity to reach people, sell advertising and make money. But mobile is not the nail we think it is. Read the rest of this entry
Say the word “recruitment” and most newspaper executives groan. Over the last seven or eight years, our revenue in this space has shrunk to a fraction of its former size, and it’s still slipping.
At Morris Publishing Group, we’ve been looking hard at this vertical for several months. We’ve been trying to figure out two things: How can we do better at what’s left of our existing business, and how can we create new wins in this space?
We’re beginning to see path ahead, so it’s a good time to share some of what we’ve learned. Read the rest of this entry
Nothing is more deeply ingrained in the newspaper industry than the definition of news. It’s the foundation of what we do, the “product” we use to attract and serve consumer audiences, and the platform on which we sell most of our advertising.
Now the definition desperately needs fundamental change, as I’ll document below. If we hope to be relevant and engaging to the people in our markets, we need to start over, beginning with a fresh answer to the question, “What is news?” Read the rest of this entry
When your industry is undergoing massive disruption, getting a glimpse of the future is priceless. The more you know about where things are going, the smarter you can be about what to do right now.
For that reason, the report released earlier this month by Borrell Associates — “The Future of Legacy Media” — should be required reading for everyone responsible for the health and sustainability of any legacy media business in the United States and Canada. Read the rest of this entry
In the midst of major change, we can only make the right moves if we properly understand what’s happening.
Right now, we in the mass media are wrestling with the most massive change we’ve ever seen. But, as in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, we’re only aware of the tiny part of this change that we touch every day. Read the rest of this entry
I was surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth recently, during a strategic discussion about where our company, Morris Communications, needs to be in three to five years.
I heard myself say, “We need to realize that we’re witnessing the end of advertising as we’ve known it. Not this year, not next year, but over a period of not very many years.” Read the rest of this entry