As digital media blunts the impact of advertising, brands are looking for new ways to lure consumers. The latest, buzziest effort has been to publish stories that look and feel journalistic. The key strategy of branded content or “native advertising” is to hide the commercial imperative, and even the brand altogether, so that readers think they’re consuming a familiar newspaper or magazine. This is supposed to make brands seem more reliable, familiar, and indispensable. But it’s a sham—a shortsighted attempt to trick consumers into opening their wallets.What businesses need to do is debrand.
Since the ’90s, there has been a significant backlash against overt advertising—resistance to Coca-Cola sponsoring sports events at schools; to children designing Nike shoes in class; to toddlers singing along with Bumba, a clown who also happens to sell industrial cookies and cheap plastic toys. Social media has only made it more treacherous for brands that try too hard. Just ask DiGiorno Pizza.
So brands started to adopt subtler tactics. With native advertising, brands tell stories on popular platforms—and tell them in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from the stories readers already consume. By matching the message to the platform, brands can draw loyal customers and maybe even make their content go viral. Or so the thinking goes.