Native advertising is 'unhealthy' and threatens brand identity, says John Brown Media chief Andrew Hirsch

Brands investing in native advertising are embarking on an “unhealthy” practice which risks identity and tone of voice being swallowed by surroundings, according to John Brown Media chief executive Andrew Hirsch.

Speaking to The Drum, Hirsch - whose company publishes magazines for John Lewis, RBS, Man City FC, Bupa, Emirates, and Waitrose - was critical of native and ad agencies, believing them to have coined the term in a bid to play in the booming content space.

However, the way it is used is actually a departure from traditionally successful content and used too often for ineffective, short-term campaigns, according to Hirsch, describing native as interruptive to a brand's overall tone of voice and a threat to brand identity.

“I don’t like the term native. It’s not building a relationship, it’s just another form of advertising and the brand is absorbed by another brand, that’s not healthy.

“The real difference with native is who is claiming the creation; you now have a boom in native advertising agencies, when traditionally it was an editorial product. Ad agencies created the term so they could play in that space,” he said.

According to Hirsch, the boom in content marketing has prompted a resurgence in print-based marketing following an “anti-print” industry tipping point.

Some of the big names John Brown Media produces content for have upped their print investment and there is a growing recognition for the value of combined print and digital strategies. Over the last 12 months, John Lewis has launched two new print products while Waitrose has increased its magazine print run from half a million to 700,000.

“Print is far from dead,” Hirsch continued. “It became unfashionable to talk about print, but there has been a resurgence, big clients are spending more.

“People have been sitting on the fence – do they talk up digital or say print is still strong? It’s about having confidence in the product.”

Hirsch said that business was better at the company, although it was difficult to say whether it was attributable entirely to increased interest in content marketing or whether the upturn in the economy was a bigger factor.

Regardless, one big advantage of the content investment in the marketing world was the emergence of a new range of client sectors which were previously out of bounds for content business like John Brown Media.

“We’re able to talk to brands we couldn’t talk to before,” he said. “Retail was always a safe haven, but brands like Kellogg’s, P&G and Unilever were always traditionally big spenders in TV – the majority of their spend went to big ad agencies.

“Now we can talk to them about content, social. You could be terrified of the competition, but the exciting thing for us is brands spending money that wouldn’t before.”

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