Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

When it comes to digital ads, everyone wants to go native

Consensus is building that the best way to advertise on the internet is to not advertise at all. At least, not as we know it.

As BuzzFeed starts to expand its UK presence with a series of hires, it feels timely to revisit exactly what is meant by the term "native advertising" and take a look at what it brings to the party.

The jury’s decision is in. Display ads, not least those large banners on most websites, have failed. They have failed to capture the attention of readers. They have failed to generate enough revenue for publishers. They have failed to provide enough traffic for advertisers.

Native advertising, meanwhile, is taking off. For some, it is no more than a modern rebrand of advertorials but, when explaining its resurgence, context - if you can excuse the pun - really is everything. The arrival of content that can be shared easily via social media, and yet fit comfortably in-stream when viewed on a mobile device, offers a new dynamic.

Definitions vary, but native ads can broadly be described as sponsored content that is relevant to consumers and fits well in the wider editorial experience. The best native ads offer content that stands on its own merit, regardless of who produced it or why. All native ads should be clearly distinguishable as such too.

'The jury's decision is in. Display advertising has failed. Native advertising, meanwhile is taking off'

By the end of 2013, BuzzFeed will have run 700 brand campaigns, according to its executive vice-president of business operations, Eric Harris. Forbes reported this week that BrandVoice, its own storytelling platform, is now its fastest-growing revenue stream. Three years after launch, BrandVoice represents 20 per cent of Forbes’ total ad revenues, and this is expected to rise to 30 per cent by 2014.

At the unveiling of the custom solutions division Guardian Labs last month, David Pemsel, the chief commercial officer at Guardian News & Media, said it was a response to the "huge opportunity" in helping clients and agencies engage more deeply with audiences.

Later this month, AOL – home to The Huffington Post – will reveal the findings of an in-depth study into what it calls the "native age". At its heart is the premise that the separation in publishing of "church" (journalists) and "state" (advertising) is a metaphor that is no longer fit for purpose. Driving this change has been the rise of the consumer – or "congregation", if you will.

I’d have thought that the collaboration, marketing nous and client-handling expertise that native ads require play well to the strengths of media agencies. But no doubt PR consultants, ad agencies and customer publishers are all thinking along the same lines.