A few weeks ago we took a somewhat critical look at native advertising. While we have an issue with the semantics around the re-naming of an existing method of advertising (it’s an advertorial!), our central argument revolved around the need for native ads to be approached with caution – especially in traditional, trust dependent content media spaces like newspapers.
 
We signed off with an example of how America is showing the rest of us how it can be done, without alienating the customer and meeting the needs of both the advertiser and the media owner.
 
Say hello to another example.
 
The Onion (iconic US ‘news satire organisation’) provided one of the best models in how to shift from print to digital media in the 90’s. The digital version was launched in ’96 and by 2013 the print edition had shut. The youngish demographic meant that the owners had to react quicker than most as its readers abandoned print quicker than your average paper reader. Theonion.com reaches 11 million unique visitors every month – a staggering (demographically valuable) number that it, as a free to view website, needs to monetise.
 
Their in house advertising agency (The Onion Labs, another innovation that has been quickly copied by other traditional news providers as they go digital), generates content that works both on the pages of The Onion and across the broader digital landscape. They have attracted huge organisations thanks to their ability to reach the millennials who make up their audience, yet haven’t done anything that might upset those same millennials by jeopardising their own hard won relationship with them.
 
Here is how: authenticity.
 
Perhaps an area in which The Onion has a unique, hereditary advantage in. Their whole raison d’etre is to make fun of things. Their authenticity is built on the back of their willingness to make fun of everything and everyone. But companies who want to appeal to a younger generation know that they have to be part of the joke, that if they want to be taken seriously they must allow themselves to be laughed at. By doing so they make themselves authentic (according to the parameters of The Onion). After all, not taking yourself too seriously is the first rule for getting a Youtube video seen and shared.
 
What The Onion has done has worked to its strengths and made sure of this by not only selling the space but actually creating the content too.
 
Not many traditional news brands are going to be able to shoehorn comedy into a native ad without making themselves look silly. Only if an ad seems authentic, as if the ad content belongs alongside the standard editorial content, can it really succeed. Anything else is just taking the readers/viewers trust for granted.