In a recent episode of the wonderful Start-up podcast, our heroes from Gimlet media got stressed out about native advertising. It shows how new branded content and native advertising and content marketing are. Even the experienced journalists discussing it on the podcast got the terminology all mixed up.
In the end they came out with a set of guidelines on their advertising and what they described as branded content. It boiled down to a simple, but powerful, promise.
Start-up’s branded content crisis
If you’re not familiar with the podcast, it’s made by Alex Blumberg. It chronicles the founding and growth of his podcasting company, called Gimlet Media. Blumberg is an award-winning radio journalist, and a former producer on This American Life.
After hearing this episode where they debated issues around their advertising, I admired how seriously they take this stuff. And the end result, their advertising guidelines, boil down to this promise: “We aim to make great ads that are enjoyable and relevant for listeners”, and that all the content they produce should be really, really good.
The ‘make it good’ principle
And it is. But the stuff they call ‘traditional advertising’ is what I would call native advertising. The definition I’m working from is from Denmark’s Native Advertising Institute, which says, “Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.”
I reckon the confusion comes from radio’s tradition of the ‘live read’, where an ad is read out in-stream by a show’s host. Not that it matters greatly. The point I wanted to make is the live-read native ads that Gimlet does in the Start-up podcast are really, really good.
Native done right
And the reason they’re good is they fit that definition of native advertising the Danish folk offered—they match the form, feel and function of the show. They are not trying to hide the fact they’re ads. They are ads that fit in perfectly, and make perfect sense, in the narrative flow of the story.
The ones I’ve been most enjoying are the ads for Audible, the audiobooks provider who also advertise on popular podcasts like Serial. I haven’t encountered their ads in lots of other places, but you couldn’t get a clearer contrast between the Start-up Audible ads and the Serial ones. The latter are traditional ad copy read in a monotone by Sarah Koenig. Without wanting to cast aspersions on anyone involved, they are pretty forgettable. They may say different things every week, but I don’t pay attention if they do.
By contrast, the Start-up Audible ads are performed by Alex Blumberg and involve him interviewing people who listen to Audible books. They’re presented as mini-narratives, structured similarly to the show itself, with Blumberg as a character in the ad as well as the show.
The Danish definition
Even though I maintain that native advertising as a form is a stop-gap between a failing display model and the growing content model, I do appreciate it when it’s done well.
In fact, I just did a post on what I reckon best practice native advertising should look like for the Native Advertising Institute.
Basically, I think that native advertising will become truly worthwhile (and very powerful) when audiences see it as being as useful, entertaining and trustworthy as the editorial material around it.
How native is your advertising?
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