Native advertising is trolling us all

By Erin Griffith , written on November 13, 2013

From The News Desk

Over the last year the term "native advertising" has gone from shiny new curiosity to eyeroll-inducing, to worse.

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who is not a fan of the concept, might have said it best. She called native advertising “the buzzword of 2013 business model discussions at conferences.”

Not one to slight this hot new conference category, Business Insider's Ignite conference featured a native advertising panel today. After witnessing it I am convinced we have hit and passed "peak native," exhausting all of the possible smart things that can be said about this category of advertising. (Full disclosure: I am guilty! Last year I moderated a panel at an event called the Native Advertising Summit.)

For proof that we have exhausted native advertising discussions, here are some comments from today's panel:

"Native is an innovation of the modern Internet feed."

"Our focus is to get to the next generation of everything."

"Content remixing and content deejaying within the feed is the new language of the web."

"A product renaissance."

"Native does service content marketing, but it is not synonymous with content marketing."

And lastly,

"We believe native ads are a spiritual journey."

Yep. Kevin Gentzel, the CRO of the Washington Post, said native ads are a spiritual journey.

It's a stretch to call any kind of advertising "spiritual." At best, native advertising is a trick that puts ads in the place where trusted editorial content lives. At this point, it might even be more valuable as source of pontification at conferences than it is as an ad format. All I know it that it has become impossible to talk about native advertising without sounding like a jerk.

Part of the reason people sound like jerks when they're talking about native advertising is because there is no standard definition of what constitutes a native ad. That means we spend most of the conversation quibbling over what is and isn't native. (Not to mention, this makes it impossible to measure exactly how much money advertisers are spending on the category.)

Fred Wilson, who is often credited with coining the term, was referring to the way Facebook and Twitter's ad units are not standard IAB-approved 300x250 banner ads. Facebook's Sponsored Stories and Twitter's Promoted Tweets, Trends and Accounts are designed specifically to their own platforms. They're native.

But the term has now been expanded to include anything "sponsored" which lives in the main content feed of a Web site. The idea of advertisers sponsoring a piece of content is not new or innovative, and slapping the term "native" on it doesn't change that. I've heard griping from executives at ad-tech startups that the sponsored content of BuzzFeed, The Atlantic and Forbes are giving the entire category of native advertising a bad name. (This corner of the native market can be measured; eMarketer expects it to garner $1.88 billion in ad spending this year.)

Regardless of whether native advertising becomes the renaissance digital mediaites are predicting, let's pick a definition and move on already. The spiritual journey towards figuring it out has been brutal.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]