Those who are old enough to remember the Beatles appearing on the Royal Variety Performance will also probably remember the scandal of subliminal television ads in the 1960s. These were ads that flashed across the screen so quickly that the viewer wasn’t even aware of them, but the branding was lodged, supposedly, in the dark recesses of the mind, ready to creep out and take control of the host’s buying choices.

There are two huge reasons why there is no similarity between the covert subliminal strategy and native advertising, which is in contrast a strategy linked to enriching the overt relationship with the consumer.

The first difference is that there is no intention to deceive; clear labelling and branding ensure that the source of the content is not hidden. The host and the brand are both being honest with their audience.  It doesn’t have to be inappropriately dominant or aesthetically jarring to provide honest provenance.

Which leads to the second difference; that of delivering value. Subliminal advertising offered no value whatsoever to the viewer; they didn’t even know it was happening. Native advertising, on the other hand, only works when if offers value; when the content is interesting and relevant enough for the reader to continue the conscious process of wanting to read it.

Just take a look at the BMW sponsored content on Medium; it’s called Reform presented by BMW. We start off talking about ‘hacks’, the things people do to make products work for them, the innovative and imaginative ways we adapt stuff to overcome problems.

A page or so down and there’s a mention of a site called airbnb, a quick hyperlink and there’s a room in Barcelona for £10 per night. For the next half an hour of clicking lots of other bargain options to see the world on a budget have been explored. So, it’s back to the BMW sponsored content and working down to a piece called Plug Addiction talking about what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012 and the lights went out.

Fascinating stuff that has fuelled daydreams of travel and got the grey cells thinking about the human condition and what we might actually have to do if the lights really did go out for a long time. That’s what magazines like Medium are all about and this is one consumer who’s none the worse for passing a couple of BMW logos on the way.

Native advertising goes where the consumer is and talks to them in their language of choice. It’s called communication and is a major factor in the evolution of our species, as well as the evolution of marketing.

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Author Adam Rock

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