Native Advertising: Will It Save or Slay the Needy Media?

Lewis DVorkin (below right) is a great writer. Check that, Lewis DVorkin’s a brilliant writer. A Forbes piece pitting the ad world against the PR industry Monday echoes of Richard Edelman public relations celebrity (and might to an extent), but the piece also emits the cries of a fairly stupefied textual news media too. More than this though, these kinds of editorials could decry the very journalistic separation the PR and media industry content needs separating.  This begs the question; “Is the public full on ready for inherently blurred ideals, or can communicative wizards make the magic transformation stick?

Pint ads from the past

Vintage “weak man” ad – courtesy Jamie

Last week I reported on a study performed by Edelman’s content guru Steve Rubel, a study which I might add felt a bit like classical contrivance, besides the obvious addressing of a  major communications rift. On the face of it, so-called “native advertising” does make for a potent shot in the arm for publishers. However, no matter how influential or hard working any leader of industry may be, selling to people who won’t be sold is not so much about advertising agencies ruling the media roost. The printed word (or its digital cousin) is simply not a TV western or soap opera. But apparently some would have readers believe so.

Lewis DVorkinThe Edelman report here, speaks of transforming forms of curated content into some kind of new form of “ad” – when in reality much of the content consumed on the Internet is in fact promotional to the extreme anyway. If anyone out there were to divulge one real truth of digital media, it might be uncovered that “earned media” is about as advertorial as “paid media” any old how. Does this mean the world is on the proverbial “take”? Well, looking at the situation from that perspective, putting the purse strings back in the hands of the front newspaper office is probably the biggest stroke of genius since blogs started. I won’t say more here, but I could after about half a million emails in between the dugouts.

Now that I have caused some “puckering” to begin.

Citing The Holmes Report and a Weber Shandwick’s Chief Digital Strategist, James Warren, DVorkin skillfully makes the case for against the PR giants versus those entrenched ad people out there. Well at least he points the discerning and interested party in the right direction. Or is that direction the wrong direction after all? It’s fair to make the assumption here that these magnificent PR firms we’ve admired so long could easily and flawlessly put the proverbial cart before the horse and then sell it. What I mean is, Weber Shandwick’s GoLive,  live storytelling, broadcast quality-production and social distribution effort launched June 13th, is but one in a series of big time PR “dog and pony shows” (let’s call them for the sake of this side of the argument) aimed at perhaps a new form of media relations.

Now looking at the larger story with cause and effect or cart (media monetizaton) before the horse (PR company native ads) in mind, Fleishman-Hillard kicks off with this veritable New York Times announcement back in April they intend to become “the most complete communications company in the world”, a bit of time later on and Richard Edelman publishes “A Dissenting View”, not only on his 6 AM blog, but here on Everything PR to the effect his mega PR firm will not become some morphed ad agency (insinuating FH and others might). Then, watching a series of announcements, counter announcements, collateral agency moves, and competitive strategies forming up, the whole media tornado revolving about “native ads” and new age PR agencies takes on the cast of any individual PR campaign for a “product”. Let’s build a story, make it gain momentum, and pretty soon the public “knows” the story. Or do they?

The Holmes Report first speaks of it June 15th, then Aarti Shah & Arun Sudhaman quoting Warren on the 16th, then Lewis DVorkin uses the philosophy (and maybe some three dimensional journalism) on Forbes, first on the 8th of this month with this absolutely brilliant piece, then with the above referenced one on the 22nd. While I do not know Lewis, but if my negative theory here (the positive one is to follow mind) on the rebirth of newspapers and PR via paid-for no-matter-what-media holds a grain of truth, every religion on Earth needs him as their grand wizard. The guy could soft sell radiation poisoning if hes slicing and dicing slanted editorial.

The ad-men are back - Art Detail Coca-Cola ad Boys Life mar 1944 - courtesy José Roitberg

The ad-men are back – Art Detail Coca-Cola ad Boys Life mar 1944 – courtesy José Roitberg

Now that I made him laugh and smirk, the facts for publishers nor businesses where native ads are concerned, well they’re  are not even in yet. If this eMarketer report and the research behind it suggests anything, it suggests the jury is still out on the effectiveness of native over old display advertising means goes. You read that correctly, by the way. In terms of measured effectiveness the recent eMarketer breakdown was as follows:

  • Native ads more effective – 15.2%
  • Somewhat more effective – 33.3%
  • No more or less effective – 12.1%
  • Somewhat less effective – 3%
  • Too early to tell – 34.8%
  • Other – 1.5%

Get ethic easeNow I don’t know about you, but transforming whole armies of public relations executives and expanding New York offices to include whole production crews of creatives (okay a bit carried away here), adding floors and floors of ad and marketing execs, and so on costs money, its in some people’s best interests to ensure those people have something to do. Did I start to tell a funny story here?

Finally. I may, of course be,  just delusional. It could be I have effect and cause mixed up (or is it cause and effect). It’s possible too that all this news of new age advertising in the face of mobile about to eclipse web absorption – it could be just coincidence.

For summing up Part I of this editorial exploratory let me just say it’s a lot more likely the Richard Edelman’s and Dave Senays of the world play three dimensional chess, than lawn darts, at least where business is concerned. If anyone out there believes the most powerful communicators in the world just kicked the opening kickoff into the fluffiest media relationships campaign in history, then the race to make media all monetization fuzzy ought to get some catchy name like The Great Recession or something.  How about Three Ad Monte, where the real ad and the shill ad confuse the mark into believing the game is fair?

The headline  of the latest Forbes article reads; Inside Forbes: It’s Fight Night. PR Firms Take On Ad Agencies Over Native Advertising. Dissecting this the negative connotations of Ad and PR seem pitted against one another. While PR may take a hit on most people’s BS alarm, the term Ad flat out wins the villain game here. PR firms aren’t taking on ad agencies, in many cases they are becoming them. This dissenting view may not please everyone, but it needed saying. Are we looking at a paradigm shift, or a disruptive PR synthesis here?

Let’s hear your view, and stay tuned for the antithetical next!

 

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Comments

  1. Polly Payne says

    Interesting article Phil! I think that some forms of native advertising can certainly blend with the role of the PR agency while other forms are clearly not. For example, a sponsored article could definitely benefit from the finesse of a PR writer.

    Sponsored video, images or playlists, on the other hand, are in the hands of the technology publisher or native distribution platform. Here is a link to the latest Native advertising landscape : http://www.imediaconnection.com/images/content/07032013Berry-NativeAdvertisingLandscape-01-lg.png

    It organizes all the technology providers that power this content and publishers that are participating.

  2. Greg Fieler says

    Interesting. You talk about people’s perceptions about PR and AD. “While PR may take a hit on most people’s BS alarm, the term Ad flat out wins the villain game here.” While I agree with that statement I wonder if ‘most people’ are aware of the workings of PR. I am most certainly not an expert (well, to be completely honest – I haven’t even finished the PR for Dummies book) but I think that a lot of what PR firms do is invisible to most people.

    As an example, I really hadn’t thought much about ‘sponsored content’ until I read the new about the Edelman report. In some places it is clearly labeled and to me sponsored content isn’t really any different that advertising. I didn’t realize how pervasive it really is. Now I notice the “sponsored content” small print at the very end of some of the ‘news’ I read. I am often skeptical anyway and have always tried to remember to ‘consider the source.’ Further, media hasn’t done itself any favors by blurring the lines between news and entertainment. Help me understand, is it really that PR firms are becoming Advertising firms or do they really aspire to become media firms?

    As one of the ‘most people’ I am concerned.

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