Native ads--ads that reside seamlessly within content, giving the appearance of editorial material--have become increasingly prevalent as consumer adoption of mobile technology has skyrocketed. These ads can take many forms, and marketers are always in search of the next new thing that will enable them to cut through the clutter to deliver an experience that not only will be different, but also will resonate with their audiences and, ultimately, drive sales.
Bhavesh Vaghela, CMO at ResponseTap, says branding today is all about engagement in a personal way. "Blending old with new media--digital and analog--is a great way to do this," says Vaghela. "It gives consumers highly memorable, interactive experiences. It also benefits advertisers since, by combining the different media formats, they can track the effectiveness of their campaigns, both online and offline."
This is especially important in today's environment, says Vaghela, as marketers try to provide a seamless brand experience, online or in a retail environment. "It seems to me that companies that are able to integrate online and offline channels--and that successfully humanize their brands through the use of old media--will be the ones growing the most loyal customer base."
Motorola, in partnership with inPowered and Digitas-LBi, was an early innovator in this arena, merging online and offline content to create consumer engagement and boost brand awareness and preference. Bradley LaMendola is the associate media director at DigitasLBi. He has been working on the Motorola brand for about 2 years and says it "faced some significant awareness issues." It was, he says, "a bit of a dying brand." People didn't really know about it. That's not surprising amid the clutter of the tech-product environment. It can be hard to stand out from the masses, especially when competing with brands such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google-the world's top three most valuable brands, according to Forbes.
After its release, Motorola's Moto X smartphone was receiving strong product reviews from outlets such as CNET and The Verge, LaMendola says. "We wanted to get people to experience these articles from a credible source." inPowered was a perfect fit. The company had developed a product that allows advertisers to identify positive content on the internet and convert that content to native ads. The campaign also used traditional media-a full-page ad in the January 2014 edition of WIRED with an interactive print page. DigitasLBi pointed to the campaign and its blending of "old and new media" as "a first of its kind interactive experience."
The key differentiator was that consumers could design their own phones with a hands-on tool called Moto Maker. It offers more than 2,000 different color combinations, including accent colors. Motorola's campaign capitalized on this and the ability of consumers to play with the various options. The product offered natural opportunities for generating interaction.
The focus of inPowered's approach to gaining traction online is engagement. Consequently, instead of charging advertisers based on views or clicks, the company charges based on the amount of time that viewers remain engaged with an ad and whether or not they share it with others-from $1.50 to $3 for a 15-second view or share.
"The ability to measure user engagement with these pages was a huge bonus," says LaMendola. "It really gave us the ability to educate and bring consumers into the X family as a first step toward ultimate conversion," he says. In addition to the engagement metrics, a question at the end of each article asked whether viewers were more likely to consider Motorola as a brand option the next time they made a phone purchase. The results indicated a lift in the number of people who were more inclined.
"We were able to capture the users and remarket them with supplemental messages on more of a conversion basis," says LaMendola. "We have a limited overall budget compared to some of the other players in the space, so we have to be nimble," he says. In this case, he notes, it wasn't necessary to create any new content; content that already existed was promoted, and the company got people to interact with it. "It was a powerful opportunity for us," he says.
Kenneth Burke works in marketing and communications at Text Request, a B2B texting platform in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area. "I personally think that campaign was a genius idea, being both disruptive and interactive," says Burke. "That's what you need to stand out." Burke believes similar campaigns will continue to be worthwhile "with the proper leverage."
"Placing a print ad anywhere is risky in that you have no guarantee anyone will actually see it," he says. "If you're a smaller company, you probably want to lean toward something a bit more reliable, like a digital marketing platform. But for medium to large businesses who have a larger budget and can take some risks, this line of thinking ought to prove very valuable."
Claire Abraham, a digital marketing specialist with the Cleveland-based 216digital, agrees. "What Motorola did was actually ahead of its time with respect to internet marketing," says Abraham. "Motorola took a seemingly normal magazine ad and made it interactive. Flash forward 2 years, and interactive content marketing is all digital marketing specialists can talk about."
There are both pros and cons to this approach, though, notes Abraham. The main pro is that the concept is still new and, consequently, likely to garner attention. She says that the ability to interact with the message is also a benefit. On the flip side, she says, newness can be a downfall because companies probably don't have a specialist in house. Therefore, marketers will need to devote time and money to capitalize on this potential trend. And, once the newness wears off, the ability to engage consumers may fade. For now, though, the ability to think of creative ways to engage consumers-both online and offline-is helping companies generate awareness, build preference, and, hopefully, boost sales.
The approach worked for Motorola. In July, it launched two new models to critical acclaim-the Moto X Play and the Moto X Style. It doesn't suffer from lack of awareness anymore.