I’m slightly embarrassed to say this, but I admit to buying books, beverages, electronics and other sundry items, based predominantly on their covers. Why? Because I’m reassured by a beautiful typeface, expensive packaging, use of materials with a hand and heft that imply, if not guarantee, quality. My consumption is responsible and limited to need, but I enjoy a thoughtfully put-together product because in this day and age of savvy consumers it is almost impossible to counterfeit.
When I see a product that doesn’t meet these criteria, I tend to move on. That is, unless a friend or significant other forces me to give it a second look. Reassuringly, I’m far from alone in this foible. In fact, this is the way we humans tend to approach many aspects of consumption including our choice of content. We look for quality in the subject matter and the way it’s presented before making an informed decision on whether to consume it.
Quality as defined in the context of native is based on relevance to the user, engagement, and authenticity. If you are reading an editorial article about, say, oil shortages and it’s adjacent to a native article on how you can make diesel out of hedgehogs, you probably will move it along. Not least because it’s baloney, of course, but also because there isn’t a relevance to the editorial content and, in fact, hedgehogs are hard to come by and most people don’t want to make fuel at home.
Content, like objects and hedgehogs, becomes native when it fits in the user journey; but what deems it worthy of consumption is relevance and authenticity. The most authentic thing of all is a true story, featuring real people. This is what we have been offering clients for years and it seems to do the trick because they keep coming back. Finding a real story that aligns with both publisher and advertiser brands, and telling it in an engaging way for our audience is what we have been focused on for 10 years.
We have been making sponsor content since 2006. One of our early projects was a tourism campaign for South Africa, and featured the most charismatic restaurateurs, winemakers, and entrepreneurs – we called them ambassadors. The content we came back with would hold its own today in a native environment. What keeps it authentic also keeps it engaging. It’s also not trying to be something different. It fits in the user journey and doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.
I apply this same filter to content – I pride myself on being rarely fooled by commercial content masquerading as editorial, and I’m angry if someone tries to trick me into thinking as much. This applies to most people I meet. It’s incumbent upon us content-creators to respect the intelligence of the audience, who are more than sophisticated enough to tell the difference between paid-for and editorial content.
By using the ingredients of transparency, authenticity, relevance and quality, we end up with a product that people enjoy and they really couldn’t give two hoots about whether it’s paid-for or not. It’s just good content and it’s there to be enjoyed and shared.