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Wait, wasn’t that a piece of advertising?

Native ads blend marketing with information and entertainment, aiming for greater consumer engagement

Hiding from the ‘vah-coom’ is an essential skill all kittens must learn, and in a hilarious video Nestle’s Purina PetCare has a veteran cat proffering advice to a kitten.

Extolling the virtues of curling up on the rug, or sleeping in the underwear drawer, or steering clear of the dreaded vacuum and, of course, eating delicious cat food, the underlying message by the cat food maker is succinctly delivered to the audience.

The video on YouTube generated more than 50 million views within a short time, with the original ‘Dear Kitten’ video surpassing 21 million views and continuing to grow organically.

The message blended seamlessly with entertaining content. As Vinay Singhal, Co-Founder and CEO, WittyFeed, a viral content company, says, “The ad, like many others, is an evolved version of native advertising, where content is often used to influence users.”

These ads are non-intrusive and more effective than traditional banner or pop-up ads. Singhal insists marketers are inclined more towards native advertising than direct marketing, “as it helps them build an emotional connect with users”.

The cat ‘advertisement’ by digital firm Buzzfeed was a hit, practically growing into a franchise with seven episodes and multiple distribution platforms. That is exactly what brands desire these days.

What consumers want

The hottest traffic strategy in marketing is native ads, which are not ignored like traditional ads, because they don’t look like ads.

It looks like content that is sought out by consumers. The stuff that entertains, informs or inspires. But it isn’t.

Native ads are blending into the surroundings, on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and blogs where people tend to congregate to consume content.

“Brands are integrating their message into content,” says Wittyfeed’s Singhal, “so much so that it does not look like an advertisement. Most consumers will not understand they have consumed content.”

The communication game has since shifted from delivering a message to delivering a consistent experience throughout the customer journey cycle and businesses are capitalising on this innovation.

Blurring the difference

Though there is more than one way to create native ads, they all strive to camouflage marketing, putting it in context of the user’s experience in the digital space. This is also done in a format and style that matches that of the website for seamless readability and increased engagement.

Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Media and OOH, Madison India, maintains all brands need a storyteller. One has to find what is compelling about the story and brand and go from there. “Like fast moving consumer goods giant Unilever’s ‘Be Beautiful’ website, where it showcases all its products even as it uses longer text to deliver its message of beauty,” he adds.

Sakhuja explains that consumers are not always averse to accessing content that is inherently brand-centric, as long as they can relate to it. He cites Saffola’s Fit Foodie site, which features tips for healthy eating and healthy living.

For Saffola Masala Oats, Madison Media was given a simple brief: to gain mass acceptance in Indian households and change perception by associating oats with health and taste through engaging content. Two years hence, its maker Marico now has a roster of digital channels that uses native advertising to talk to consumers.

It was once assumed that native advertising was always paired with editorial content either produced or influenced by the advertiser. That it was similar to an advertorial, where the advertiser wants to speak to the audience but does not want them to know the message is coming directly from them.

However, more brands want to deliver value and stand out through great storytelling and visuals. The challenge is in distributing this content.

Take the Facebook page of InnerVoice, a platform for writers by WittyFeed. The message reads ‘That little one’s first day at school. Most of the children cry like hell. But she was unique. Mom, please send me to school, she cried with a sweet tone.’ Consumers are encouraged to share their own experiences as well as the message on social media.

Many advertisers now have websites that dole out tips, fitness how-tos and Pinterest-worthy images. “The advertiser won’t underplay the message,” says Sakhuja.

However, he insists, there is a thin line between native advertising and sponsorship. “Vodafone Fan Army in IPL is sponsorship.”

Vodafone and IPL have been celebrating a decade of entertainment. With Sony selling advertising inventory of around ₹1,300 crore, IPL matches are high-decibel marketing events. Every match tends to feature a Vodafone fan army showing off some moves, and a Vodafone ‘superfan’ getting a match ball signed by the winning captain. Elaborating on the idea that native marketing and a seamless digital experience are no longer the exception but rather the new expectation, Wittyfeed’s Singhal says it is not easy to make brands stand out.

“For Reliance Jio, we ran a contest in the form of story tales, where we asked consumers to tell us how Jio changed their lives. More than 2,000 tales were sent in.”

WittyFeed, which had a video of Nineties’ Bollywood hits generating over eight million views in two days, posted a meme on what would happen when Reliance Jio stops service, using a scene from a Bollywood movie. Within 24 hours, the post gathered over two million views. The content firm has been roped in by the government to similarly market Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan.

Citing another campaign done for the brand, Singhal said, “During an IPL match, bystanders took their seat in the formation of the Jio logo. This was shown on TV. We took a screen shot and amplified it on social media. We got 2.5 lakh instant engagements.” He adds that “several brands don’t even want their logo amidst the content. Mature brands are able to understand the value of content in advertising on social media,” he insists.

Acquiring polish

Madison India’s Sakhuja insists native advertising is picking up steam, “but is nowhere close to overtaking plain vanilla advertising”.

“There is a lot of credibility and authenticity, though the tools and techniques have changed. Brands have become clever, they are not marketing their wares as obviously as plugs. The size of the market is still tiny, though,” he said.

A global report points to the growth in the medium. Ad sales intelligence provider MediaRadar said in a report that globally “native is growing with a 74 per cent increase in number of placements in Q1 year over year”.

Closer home, while Flipkart and Snapdeal among others have been strategically placing native advertisements for several years now to be topically relevant, several native advertising platforms have also popped up for advertisers, thereby showing the jump. Firms such as Redirect, Outbrain, Taboola, Vertoz, Inmobi, MariMedia and Appnext are specialists that aim to smoothly integrate advertising with content.

source: BusinessLine