Native advertising: Stop pandering to the stupid

In a guerrilla Tinder anti-smoking stunt, the same girl got 29% swipe-rights with a cigarette and 54% swipe-rights without a smoke.
In a guerrilla Tinder anti-smoking stunt, the same girl got 29% swipe-rights with a cigarette and 54% swipe-rights without a smoke.

From TBWA's director of digital strategy and social media: Native's not an invasion if people are treated with the intelligence they deserve

Enter: Native advertising.

Cue response: "Advertising is invading our lives!"

… That’s generally how the conversation goes whenever we get to the topic of native advertising, also known as creative that is tailor-made for a specific channel, consumer and context.  

Why is there so much backlash and vitriol against native advertising? 

Simple answer: Most native advertisements are pure trash. 

More complicated answer: We advertisers have gone from the art form of designing emotional moments to the mutilation of creativity into a programmatic algorithm.  We are poopsmiths, shoveling steaming, high-reach piles of Photoshopped shit onto clean, pure screens across the digital universe. 

People desire to be delighted.  We human beings seek moments of enlightenment that make us smile or feel something, anything above the hum of the 5,000 brand images thrust in front of our eyes on a daily basis.  We want something to capture our attention past the average six-second span we have (down from 12 seconds in 2000).

Brainless marketing-mix models, efficient CPMs, branded memes — these are pitfalls that led us to a hopeless place of thoughtless social advertising.  We seek to reach as many people in the most measureable, least risky way possible.  We try it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al., and we call it native advertising. 

That’s not native advertising.  That’s barely even advertising.

Native advertising is a term that came into be because so many advertisers forgot how to be native, forgot how to blend in and speak to people on their intellectual and emotional level. 

Advertisers are formally trained to treat everyone like they’re idiots.  The first filter: Will literally everyone, even people in the Midwest, understand our message?  (Don’t even get me started on that heinous coastal bias, that’s for another 600-word rant.)

Native advertising on Tinder: A step too far?

Our work is so generic and awful that people have not only been trained to tune us out but literally to despise us. 

Take a look at Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook or r/FellowKids on Reddit for hilarious examples.

So naturally, when we bring our high-quality advertising content to places where people are having meaningful moments with each other, and try to pass it off as meaningful too, we’re gonna get killed.  Deservedly. 

Occasionally, however, you’ll see the magic of advertising shine through in the toughest places. 

Nissan sold a car on Amazon, and it made it to the front page of Reddit, and they had a blast with the audience thereafter.

In a guerrilla Tinder anti-smoking stunt, the same girl got 29% swipe-rights with a cigarette and 54% swipe-rights without a smoke.

There’s so much possibility for great native advertising when brands let go of their business school models, and shoot for generating pure, human emotion. 

People don’t hate native advertising.  They hate lazy, faceless messaging from the brand equivalent of a Botoxed, overly spray-tanned guy in a striped suit with a smug grin. To people at home, this is who we are.

Places like Tinder, Reddit and Snapchat are microcosms of real life, where we have to filter our mates, our politicians and our associates.  People are smart enough to not take everything at face value. 

Let’s stop pandering to the stupid. Let’s elevate advertising back to an art form. 

Let’s raise the bar for critical thinking in this country — it seems lower than it’s ever been and is certainly about to get lower with elections around the corner.

Native advertising can and should be the most welcome form of brand messaging — as long as it’s created to treat people as smart as they are and with as much respect as they deserve.

Rohit Thawani is director of digital strategy and social media with TBWA.

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free