Famous Last Words: Advertisers ‘Go Native.’ Great!

The definition of the term “go native” from the Urban Dictionary is as follows: Used humorously, to go native means to take on some (or all) of the culture traits of the people around you, often said of people who go to foreign countries or far away cities. These traits may include dress, language, accent, etiquette, religion, etc.

In the mediaplayer to the right is a page from the old Target Marketing print magazine circa the 1990s, when I was editor.

It deliberately looked like an editorial page—an article or sidebar of some kind. We called it an “advertorial.”

In reality, it was created by a one of the advertisers in conjunction with a page of paid advertising. Sometimes, I wrote the advertorial for an advertiser.

Pitches from the sales reps were often: “Buy an ad and get an advertorial the same size free!” “That’s two for one!” “That’s equivalent of 50 percent off!” “A bigger bang for your buck!” Advertisers loved it! What the hell, I loved it!

Because the magazine was (and is) free, advertising paid the bills (e.g., salaries). Also, this was (and still is) a trade magazine: My mission was to bring to my readers any information in any format that could make them money.

This wasn’t trickery or deception. The black bar at the top of the page said:


Some readers stay strictly to editorial content—and skip ads. Here was an unobtrusive way for an advertiser to impart information about a product or service in the format some readers prefer.

Rather than using blatant headlines, subheads and illustrations, the advertiser could tell the story in a conversational, quiet way.

In the world of television, this is called an “infomercial.” No big deal. If you don’t want to see it, skip it.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Tim Orr

    What puzzled me about these "native" ads was that the practitioners of them kept *insisting* that the were *not* "advertorials" at all, but some totally new thing. The fact that they insist on using the term "native" instead of "advertorial" shows that.

    We used advertorials in B2B for years. Sometimes, they weren’t worth the paper they were printed on because the publications insisted on running them on pages facing the advertisers’ ads or chose a particular typographical format that caused an early form of what we now call "banner blindness."

    The "Advertisement" header does tend to hurt results, but mostly it makes the creation of these things more challenging: The publisher *must* allow the advertiser (or its agency) to supply its own headline, and the "story" has to be interesting and compelling – and supplied by the advertiser, not the publisher.

    We had huge success with some so-called "text ads" in daily B2B newsletters, that because of their format, functioned exactly like advertorials. Unlike other advertisers, we refused to use the company logo as though it were a headline and insisted upon making the things informative and benefit-oriented. These also had click-throughs that allowed us to track effectiveness. We learned from the publisher that our approach was beating the competition by 5 to 1 or more, and that the publisher was recommending our approach to all its advertisers.

    Remarkably, many of the advertisers refused to adopt the technique we’d shown effective, and insisted on "pushing" their logos and sell copy. Most didn’t bother to count their click-throughs from what we hear.

  • Tim Orr

    By the way, if you thought your Philadelphia ordinances were incomprehensible, try reading this trade article on "native" advertising: