December 11, 2014

Written By Thomas Roos

Part 1: How Web 2.0 gave consumers endless power

An introduction to native advertising.

Native advertising is a new phenomenon within the online advertising field and by some people is referred to as the new disruptive online advertising strategy (Salmon, 2013). Native advertising has received wide-spread attention within the online marketing field, especially among content marketers, but seem to be poorly understood by too many stakeholders. (The average monthly Google searches of the term ‘native advertising’ has gone from 800 January 2013 to 4000 in 2014.) Native advertising includes ads that ‘blend in’ with the content that surrounds them, but are actually branded and paid for. Evidently, the success of one such native ad is to create content that 1) enhances brand equity, 2) adds to the publisher’s / platform’s value, and most importantly; 3) is valuable for the audience that needs to be engaged.

The nature of this paper and the reason for writing.

This article will merely reflect upon my interpretations of the information that was collected and processed, and it is written to provide deeper understanding of native advertising. But most importantly; it tries to identify native advertising’s place in the existing marketing paradigm and to relate it to current movements within consumer culture.

After reflecting back upon the recent paradigm shifts in society and in internet marketing that are relevant to the rise of native advertising practices, I will display the findings from a literature search, highlighting authors that made future predictions in regards to the development of (internet) marketing and advertising. In the second part, the empirical data resulting from an explorative study using netnographic methods and secondary data sources will be analysed and discussed. After illustrating the essence of native advertising and how native advertising has developed to what it is now, I will provide the reader with an argument that explains the success of native advertising for brands. The paper will conclude with a discussion of native advertising and how its success might be predicting the future form of advertising in Web 3.0


Consumer resistance to online advertising.

Online advertisements are everywhere. It seems that there is no way to escape them, even though we were fairly quick to adapt our cognitive efforts to the overwhelming amount of stimuli; nowadays 90% of the banners is selected out by our brain and does not even reach our conscious mind (Benway, 1998) (Burke et al., 2005) (Buscher et al., 2010).

Digital advertisements have become more and more intrusive, some colourful, some beautifully simple; but they all annoy us to a certain degree. Certainly, advertisers and marketing agents have become better and better at drawing the online wanderer’s attention along the way, using a variety of methods (Winer, 2009, p.110).

’The early part of the 21st century has witnessed an explosion in new media utilized by marketing managers to reach their customers’’ (Winer, 2009, p.119). Not solely through visual attractions, no, a fine-tuned mix of audio-visual materials is often used to facilitate a desperate call for attention. Think of the time you were listening to your favourite playlist on Spotify, rudely being interrupted by an audio advertisement in your native language, along with a screen-size billboard popping up on your screen. Think of the times you were distracted by extravagant banners on the side of the news article you were trying to read. Think of that, and you’re thinking of the post-modern internet era, an era of ‘advertising deficit disorder’ (Rubleski, 2008).

A simple, but effective way to deal with these annoying banners and ads, is simply to install so-called ad-blocking plug-ins such as Adblock, that claims to have been downloaded over 200 million times (Palant, 2014). When companies started blocking Adblock users with software called Adblockblock, activists invented Adblockblockblock to avoid that (Smith, 2013), indicating an endless cat and mouse play.

Literature study: Are we witnessing the maturation of Web 2.0?

Even though the past decade has shown us numerous examples of brands that successfully drew the attention of their target audience, it seems like the ‘traditional ways’ of online marketing (Winer, 2009, p.110) are getting out of fashion. More specialized online marketing such as interactive methods have emerged in the past years, indicating a possible maturation of the online marketing paradigm as we know it (Wind, 2008) (Varadarajan & Yadav, 2009, p.20)

This maturation of internet marketing goes along with shift in society as a whole. The paradigm shifts that have taken place in consumer culture naturally have their effect on marketing. In the current postmodern consumer culture, brands are used primarily for identity building projects. A growing body of literature from a more consumer culture perspective deals with how advertisements are perceived by consumers nowadays. Slightly older, but still very relevant contributions to this body of literature were made by Mick and Buhl (1992) and by Ritson and Elliot (1999). The former argue that ads function considerably as carriers of social meanings and are actively being used for identity building and creation. The latter argue that ‘’advertising can form the basis of for a wide variety of social interactions’’ (p.273). Firat and Venkatesh (1995) argue, - in their rather elaborative description of the postmodern condition of consumer society-, that “ is not to brands that consumers will be loyal, but to images and symbols...’’ (p.251). Deighton and Kornfeld (2009, p.9) therefore argue that of their five possible strategies for interaction with online consumers, the one that facilitates people’s identity projects and that contributes to a collective sense-making will be the most successful.

{C}{C}{C}{C}In Why do brands cause trouble? (2002), Holt predicted a paradigm shift from postmodernism to what he calls ‘post-postmodernism’. He provides evidence for the impact that contemporary anti-branding movements will have on marketing as whole, and based upon the exploratory research that was conducted, this paper suggests that these predictions are to a large extend applicable to the online marketing paradigm as well. The recent changes in consumer attitude towards brands show that branding has become a fine art and is now subject to growing consumer scepticism of brands, producers and capitalist systems in general (Holt, 2002) (Barwise & Meehan, 2010). The well-awake and self-educated brand critics that we used to call consumers are now questioning the authenticity of each branded article, advertisement, blog or other content they come across. Advertising online is subject to a changing power balance between producer and consumer, and brands will be valued as long as they allow interaction from both sides and can be used to create meaning (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). As Christodoulides (2009) argued already 4 years ago: “Post-internet branding is about facilitating conversations around the brand” (p.142).

The empowerment of the consumer is enhanced in the numerous user-generated content (UGC) platforms: “…whether the news is good or bad, they will tell everyone.” (Levine et al., 2001). Recent examples of consumer empowerment include single Youtube videos posted by one single individual, resulting in substantial losses (or gains) in brand equity when going viral, and proving why Word Of Mouth (WOM) is one of the strongest means through which a brand can gain exposure. Later on WOM will be discussed further. 

Consumers have turned to UGC to inform themselves and others about brands and products, rather than listening to companies (Xiang & Gretzel, 2010, p.180). Now the companies seem to have their answer: settle in between the audience through native advertising.

Part 2 of this paper will take the above into consideration when discussing empirical examples of native advertising as an answer to this changing power balance, as well as its successes and limitations. It will offer visual aid while explaining the essence of native advertising.