Native advertising versus native content

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Native advertising versus native content: what is it and how to make it work for your brand

Kate Thompson & Krysia Bonkowski

A 2016 BBC study found content-led marketing can deepen the emotional connection between brand and audience far more than advertising alone.

'Native content' and 'native advertising' are terms we frequently hear around the office. But these phrases have suffered from an identity crisis in recent years, and are sometimes used interchangeably (challenge: after you read this article ask a few colleagues to define 'native' and you'll see what I mean). 

Driven by the waning effectiveness of digital display advertising, shrinking print circulations and TV audiences – and content marketing's rise to stardom – brands have had to rethink how they reach people and make a meaningful connection. In a world where consumers are now in control of what they consume and when, leaving publishers and social networks to fight for a share of attention, brands quite literally need to 'blend in'.

What is the difference between native advertising and native content?

The original idea of 'native' was advertising that mimicked the visual and design language of a publication or website. What started with contextual banner placements or text links that directed users to a brand website, blog or retail store, swiftly evolved into an editorial style where brand goals were absorbed within engaging copy; in effect unnoticeable to the average reader. 

Today, both native content (more commonly called 'branded content', especially in digital channels) and native advertising continue to exist but strict rules have been enacted by Australian marketing industry bodies to discourage duplicitous practices. And there is a much clearer distinction between what constitutes 'advertising' versus 'content':
  • Native advertising is regarded as pure brand promotion where the placement mimics the look and feel of the publication or platform in which it appears. It may take a variety of formats, and not reflect the brand's identity at all, but it's still interruptive and essentially just like any other advertising that takes a user offsite or away from the publication environment.
  • Native / branded content embraces storytelling and core content-marketing principles to craft engaging content that is useful, relevant, informative and/or entertaining for a specific audience. The goal is usually brand engagement or awareness.
What's potentially even more confusing is that, according to the IAB, there are various types of branded content too:
  • Sponsored content: essentially a paid association for a brand. The publication's editor or content producer will craft the story and the brand gets to be aligned to the idea and connect with a niche or difficult to reach audience.
  • Custom content: also referred to as a content partnership. The content is hosted in a publication but planning, commissioning and production is a joint responsibility between the editor and a brand.
  • Syndicated content: content crafted by a brand which is distributed and hosted by a publication.
While native advertising certainly has its place, and will arguably generate better performance than pure advertising in the same context, at Hardie Grant Media we spend most of our time playing in the native / branded content space. Be that for clients who publish their own magazine and online media platforms, or representing clients in collaboration with publishing partners.

But, what does native look like in application? Let me show you a few examples we've worked on and others we simply think reflect best practice.

JETSTAR + DAN MURPHY'S (both Hardie Grant Media clients)

Syndicated content in print

Jetstar was ranked one of the top 10 "powerful brands for 2015" by consultancy Brand Finance Australia and flies over 1.8 million Australians and New Zealanders to destinations across its network every month. We worked closely with our clients at Jetstar Media to create a native content solution that would allow another client, Dan Murphy's, to distribute their Buyer's Guide content. The Buyer's Guide is a quarterly publication rich with inspiration and education on drinks trends and is a major driver of incremental sales during circulation.

After many successful months distributing the Buyer's Guides in seat pockets, we trialed a flipbook solution which saw a cut-down version of the Buyer's Guide feature as a section of the November edition of Jetstar Magazine in Australia and New Zealand.

DAN MUPRHY'S + DESIGN FILES (crafted independent of Hardie Grant Media)

Digital custom content

Dan Murphy's wants to be aligned with drinks "discovery", particularly with cocktails. A recent partnership saw them work with The Design Files and sponsor a new cocktail content series called The Perfect Tipple. You'll see that the overall look and feel reflected The Design Files aesthetic, and the Dan Murphy's brand benefited from alignment to high quality content. They were also able to reach an audience that may not otherwise be contacted through traditional advertising.


Digital custom content

Broadsheet dictates where a generation of Australian urban millennials eat, drink, party, travel and shop. This is an ‘always on’ segment with a large disposable income, seeking novel experiences to share. Jeep Grand Cherokee partnered with Broadsheet on a series titled ‘Ultimate Weekend’. In Broadsheet’s trademark editorial and photographic style, the new-release Jeep was integrated into driving holiday itineraries, giving the car brand valuable exposure to potential micro influencers.


Sponsored content in print

With offices in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York, Singapore, Toronto and Zurich, Monocle is a leader in the global cultural zeitgeist. The magazine has a very recognisable visual tone and feel, with an editorial focus that spans the economic and cultural. This is evident in this collaboration with Turkish Airlines, which profiles up and coming destinations on the airline’s network as part of a series entitled The Voyager’, with print supplemented with podcasts.

As you can see, there are many ways you can go about reaching audiences with native and branded content, but just a handful of shared principles that are essential to any of them being effective. At Hardie Grant we believe the top three are:
  • Be audience-first: like all content marketing it pays to be genuine and generous. The highest audience engagement comes from content that is useful, relevant, informative, educational and/or entertaining. In a nutshell, be interesting. If you're planning on talking up your products, you might want to look to direct response tactics.
  • Align your brand: it's important to work with publications that have a natural alignment to your audience and their values. Furthermore, you'll want to craft content in an appropriate tone that reflects your personality but does not alienate the publication's audience. It's all a bit of a delicate balance, but it can work if you start with your brand and customer values as a measure of fit.
  • Be transparent and authentic: research has proven consumers are more receptive to branded content when the brand's involvement is clearly disclosed. Without clear labeling they might assume it's journalism and feel manipulated if it turns out the editorial was 'cash for comment'. There's plenty of popular indicators to let the audience know it's sponsored or a collaborative piece 
As always, if you have any questions or would like to explore native content in your marketing mix please get in touch by emailing

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