If the media industry had to pull out one key commercial trend that defined 2013, the rise of "native advertising" would be right up there. The irony, of course, is that native advertising is, in many ways, a rebrand of the well-established advertorial – although here, as with advertorials, context is everything.
The rise of content-rich websites and embattled media owners desperate for more revenues have both played a part in the explosion in publishing. Another key element of the story is the proliferation of social media and its "in-stream" messages.
So, yes, native ads may not be too different to advertorials, but the way content can now be consumed and engaged with has taken on a new lease of life thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al.
The lines between paid-for branded content and advertising-funded journalism are well and truly blurring in traditional media too. In addition to the paid media space, a brand’s owned media is now rife with quality content. In fact, the Advertising Association put the value of owned media at £4 billion last year. It is also believed that 20p in every pound of marketing budget is now being spent on content marketing and media in some form.
So it comes as little surprise that content has captured the attention of many distinct but converging disciplines – PR, advertising and media. Traditionally, this area was the domain of customer publishers such as John Brown, Seven and Cedar, which in recent years have morphed into content marketing companies to reflect their multiplatform approach. They warn that it remains a field that, in many cases, still requires specialists.
However, when the Content Marketing Association opened its doors to a new strand of membership specifically for media planners last year, MediaCom was the first to sign up. There are different approaches being trialled. Some agencies, such as iProspect, are developing internal expertise, hiring editors, user-experience designers and copywriters to curate the content themselves. Others take a more consultative, commissioning stance.
It’s all a far cry from traditional planning and buying. But should media agencies be getting involved in content?
YES Ben Wood, president, iProspect "Agencies have the ability to not only originate, project-manage and produce but, critically, to distribute that content across the bought, owned and earned media ecosystem."
YES James Morris, global head, MediaCom Beyond Advertising "We are best-placed to hand-hold our clients in this area because we understand the role of content in strategic planning. Having a heritage in delivering brand messages at scale, we ensure our content stands out from the crowd."
MAYBE Andrew Hirsch, chief executive, John Brown "Unless they can bring years of experience and talent in-house in just a few weeks, I would guess they need a specialist agency. I think there will be more collaboration, which is always a nice way to go."
YES Clare Hill, managing director, Content Marketing Association "We are really excited that media agencies are coming into the space. They are bringing a lot of their brands along with them, brands that may not have worked in content marketing before."