If you’re interested in native advertising you’ve probably come across what Netflix has done in this area. Women Inmates, the story created by The New York Times Partner Studio for the debut of Orange is the new black, has won Netflix a lot of well-deserved praise.
That was not a one-off however. Netflix went on to create The Ascent together with The Atlantic for season three of House of Cards. This piece focuses on a number of first couples, the POTUS and FLOTUS (President of the United States and First Lady of the United States), telling the story of how their relationship shaped their time in the White House.
Netflix and Wall Street Journal then took native advertising to another level with the in-depth reporting on Cocainomics, the financial and logistical aspects of running a cocaine cartel, for the first season of Narcos. And recently, when Narcos returned for a second season Netflix partnered with Wired to tell the story of the technologies used to bring down Pablo Escobar.
The one thing which all of Netflix’s effort in native advertising has had in common is that they are stories which would have worked equally well as a part of the editorial content of each publisher. The stories about women in prison, presidential couples and the economies of drug smuggling are just the kind of in-depth, well written reporting that New York Times, The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal and Wired have in abundance. The only difference is that this time Netflix paid for it.
And this is one of the key reasons why I believe Netflix is doing a great job in native advertising. They give the reporters and creators the freedom to tell a powerful story without having to mention the brand or a product every other sentence.
That’s a kind of courage. A trust in the storytellers believing they will do their best and by doing so create content that will help build the brand.
It’s a kind of courage I wish more companies would have.
It’s a kind of courage I wish more companies would have. To focus on creating native ads that are on par with the editorial content rather than insisting on that their products or brands are either mentioned constantly or the stories are focused on their offerings.
What Netflix has managed to achieve by allowing the journalists to come up with the stories is that there is a natural link between the articles and the TV series which they stem from. It’s a link that doesn’t feel forced in any way and the content provides an extra dimension.
We understand more of what’s facing Frank and Claire Underwood in the White House through reading about real first couples. We feel closer to Piper Chapman and the other prisoners in Orange is the New Black after reading about real women inmates. And we understand more about the realities behind Narcos after learning about the financial and technological side of cocaine smuggling.
Far too often we look at what big companies like Netflix are doing and say “That’s not for us, we don’t have their budget.” But the truth of the matter is that courage isn’t primarily about budget – it’s about trust. If you represent a brand that buys native ads you need to work closely together with either the publisher’s studio or your content provider to come up with the topics and themes that ads value to the reader and the platform, that enriches the experience of the story and at the same time creates a tie to your brand and your offerings. As a recent survey showed the biggest challenge for media executives is to 'convince advertisers to tell real stories' so more courage is indeed required.
I’m sure there’s a few of you muttering “Well, it’s easy for them, they have all these great, exciting series to talk about.” Again, I don’t buy it. I’ll grant you that it’s probably easier to come up with exciting stories about South American druglords than soap or jet engines. But there is an audience out there clamoring for great stories about those topics as well.
The native ads that Netflix have financed shows us that you can build your brand and create interest in what you offer while being very subtle with that connection. The key take-away from what they have done is to put the story above everything else.