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Marketing & Sales
Dec 9, 2015

Blurred Lines: Native Advertising And The Future Of Marketing

Sponsored Content provided by Mike Duncan - CEO and Creative Director, Sage Island

Every year new buzzwords emerge in each industry, and digital marketing is no different. Over the last few years, our buzzwords have included everything from “clickability” to “engagement” to “gamification” to “content marketing.” As the year draws to a close and we look forward to 2016, it’s clear that the newest crop of buzzwords has arrived. The one we’re most excited about? “Native advertising.” 
What Is Native Advertising?  
Native advertising refers to any ad, whether online or in print, that doesn’t look or feel like an ad. These advertisements can take the form of journalistic reporting, personal essays, listicles, Facebook posts, tweets, videos or whatever other content your target market is likely to consume.
So what makes native advertising different from regular advertising? Unlike pop-up ads or commercial breaks, native advertisements are crafted to mimic the content a platform regularly publishes or produces to create a coherent and natural experience. When it works best, you often don’t realize you’re experiencing an ad until you reach the end of it. While regular content exists solely to inform or entertain, native advertising does those things while at the same time selling you something else. The hope is that you’ll like the content so much, you won’t care that you’re essentially watching a commercial. Sneaky? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely.
You’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad.
Today’s consumers are savvy, smart and will go to great lengths to avoid advertisements. Streaming video and DVR makes it easy to skip commercials, while the rise of ad blocking software means people are able to eradicate annoying banners and incessant pop-ups. Even YouTube offers an ad-free subscription-based model, which is already limiting the reach of many marketers.  
Native advertising circumvents these limitations because it doesn’t look or act like advertising. That’s where the “native” part comes in. Melanie Deziel, a Time Inc. creative strategist, explained this concept in a recent article: “The same way we say that plants are native to their region, content must be native to its environment. Trying to shoehorn a GIF-list into a scientific journal is like trying to grow a palm tree in the Arctic.”
This means advertisers must think carefully about the environment where their advertisement will live before they think about the advertisement itself. Only once you understand a publication or website’s audience, what they read, enjoy and appreciate, can you craft an effective ad that hits those same notes. If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. When it comes to native advertising, you can’t create one ad and then publish it across multiple channels and websites. You have to revise and in some cases rebuild it specifically for each new environment. Luckily, hard work pays off. When native advertising is done right, it can be a game changer.  
Native advertising in the wild 
The best way to understand native advertising is to experience it firsthand. We’ll start with the New York Times. Last year, it published an article titled “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work.” A multimedia piece, it included animation, audio clips and embedded videos alongside in-depth reporting and interviews. It’s interesting, poignant and the kind of quality you’d expect from a venerable publication like the New York Times. It also happens to be a great example of native advertising, which only becomes clear at the very end of the article, where a small, innocuous advertisement for season 2 of Netflix’s hit, “Orange is the New Black” slips in. 

Don’t worry. Not every piece of native advertising has to be an article worthy of the New York Times. Other websites offer just as much exposure, and their content is much easier to master. Take, for example, Buzzfeed. Known for its animated GIFs and viral lists, most people over the age of 30 roll their eyes at it. Yet Buzzfeed is actually one of the most trafficked websites on the Internet thanks to its more than 200 million unique visitors each month. Those numbers are precisely why many brands and businesses have invested in Buzzfeed’s advertising program. The process is simple (though expensive – exposure doesn’t come cheap). Buzzfeed’s creative and video teams work with brands to craft original, custom content and then share it across their platforms. The result is an article, video or listicle that fits Buzzfeed’s voice and aesthetic, while also promoting the brand.  

In a recent example, Buzzfeed published the list “12 Struggles Of Being the Only Tech Savvy Person In Your Family.” This list is funny and appeals to Buzzfeed’s audience, which is mostly young, tech-savvy people. It’s also sponsored by Windows, and promotes its products by plugging Windows 10 in the final frame. 

Native Advertising: It’s Everywhere!
If you think that native advertising is just another silly buzzword that isn’t going to change your life, your business or the way you market your brand, I have some news for you. The article you’re reading right now is a piece of native advertising. In fact, all of the Wilmington Biz Insights articles you read are. Each one seeks to entertain, enlighten and inform, while at the same time marketing a service, brand or business – and that includes me.
This doesn’t mean you’ve been tricked. It’s simply a sign that you, dear Reader, are smart and savvy. You don’t click on pop-up ads, and you’ve found a way around commercials. You appreciate advertisements that give you something interesting, rather than steal your precious time. At Sage Island we appreciate that, and we’re happy to give you exactly what you demand. To learn more about native advertising and how it can work for your business, contact Sage Island today.

Mike Duncan co-founded Sage Island in 1997 and since then has evolved the agency’s scope to include marketing strategy, creative design, technical development and a wide range of digital marketing services. With an integrated approach that leverages the power and measurability of the internet, the savvy Sage Island team develops strategies, builds brands, writes killer copy and delivers to clients all over the world. And they have an awesome time doing it. Sage’s collaborative working environment keeps creativity and innovation at the heart of the concept. With a 17-year history in Wilmington and beyond, Sage Island shows no signs of slowing down. To learn how Sage Island can grow your business, check us out at To stay updated on the latest in digital marketing, follow Sage Island on Facebook at, and on Twitter at

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