I know why many people are irked by ‘native advertising’, the latest buzzword for publishing an advert online in such a way that enables it to masquerade as authentic editorial content. And that word is Bono. You know, that Irish venture capitalist, businessman and philanthropist who sometimes delivers the occasional decent tune (‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is, no matter whatever anyone says, an absolute banger). However, despite my appreciation for the odd U2 song, his latest stunt has gone too damn far.
Now, this isn’t some tiresome rant against Bono – which frankly, considering what goes on in the world, is rather gratuitous – but more a tirade against certain marketing practices that are being used by global brands to grab fickle consumer attention. Marketing practices that make me feel consciously violated and fearful that I’m only months away from waking up to find Bono in my kitchen, donning a ‘Calm Down and Listen to U2’ apron and rustling up brunch from his own recipe book.
Why? Because in October last year I discovered the Irish band’s latest album miraculously on my iTunes playlist and I had no idea how it got there. And this, I can assure you, is tantamount to a stranger coming up to me in the street, shoving their hand in my crisp packet and putting one in their mouth. And judging by the media reaction across the globe, I wasn’t the only one a tad miffed. This is because, like the majority of modern consumers, I am more marketing savvy than ever before and vehemently dislike being forced or tricked into parting with my precious time and custom. This is why native advertising is wrong, and a dangerous game for both brands and publishers to play. Even though Bono has since apologised, the fact that U2 and Apple even thought it a clever idea reflects just how opaque the rules of marketing have become.
With the wealth of information now available to me, I like to discover and engage with brands on my own terms. So when reading an article on an online newspaper about the war in Syria, I don’t want a ‘recommended further reading’ link that discusses Kim Kardashian’s posterior. It’s completely irrelevant to what I’m reading or interested in, and my online experience is being thoroughly disrupted as a result. It’s not only damaging my perception of the publication I’m reading, but also that of the brand who’s placed the content (either themselves or, more likely, through an advertising platform such as Outbrain, Taboola and StumbleUpon, who create and pull together content and host it online in places where they think their clients’ target audiences frequent).
But I’m no fool. As my colleague Michael stressed in his blog yesterday, I know that ad revenues are the media’s bread and butter. And I also know that marketing is a vital organ for any business, and that brands will always seek the best platform to reach and engage with their target audiences. If current methods, such as banner ads, aren’t working – the click-through rate is less than 0.1% and pretty much everyone uses ad blockers these days – then something has to change.
But not like this. A key element of quality content marketing is less about pushing products and services and more about changing and enhancing consumer perceptions. It plays a supportive role in helping customers understand a company’s product, service and brand, creating the opportunity for customers to enter a two-way dialogue that can help form a long-lasting relationship with the brand.
Native advertising is a one-way street. It’s churning out content for content’s sake in a way that will do more bad than good. And who would churn out something just for the sake of it?
Bono. Bono would.