Publishers: ‘Look beyond native advertising to native advocacy’

Matt Ipcar is executive creative director at Blue State Digital

When it comes to advocacy, it’s all about the ask.

Campaigns and nonprofits spend a lot of energy convincing people to join a movement, donate money, learn about an issue, change their Facebook profile, or show up to a voting booth. How and where you deliver that ask warrants consideration: the reality is that the vast majority of organizations will never experience something as effortlessly successful as the Ice Bucket Challenge. Instead, agencies are constantly looking for ways to innovate (and test, and retest) every possible way to seek out interactions.

But are we doing all we can? One less-explored frontier builds on the model of native advertising: integrating frictionless advocacy tools into articles that compel people to action. Actual fundraising, actual event attendance, actual volunteer recruitment. Call it native advocacy.

Imagine a publication like Mother Jones or The New Republic making content available for sponsorship from an organization like the ACLU or Planned Parenthood — but rather than just a logo or banner next to the content, there’s a real volunteer opportunity to take action for those organizations. Coming from similar political, social, or ethical foundations, the values of both the advocacy organization and the publisher would align. The case being made in an article, op-ed or video — for civil or reproductive rights, for example — would inspire readers around important issues, and targeted, seamlessly integrated advocacy opportunities would capitalize on that moment of heightened awareness.

Both the publisher and sponsor could benefit from a virtuous feedback loop, where the message is reinforced by a clear and simple call to action.

With all this potential comes a question about the line between editorial and advertising, even when the promotion is done in the name of a great cause. But as outlets seek to differentiate themselves with a clear point of view, why relegate ad dollars to less contextual, less useful interactions when you can give your readers a clear link to follow through on their passion for the content you’ve produced?

Things may be moving in this direction. Upworthy offers readers branded content with an honest statement — “We were paid to promote this ad, but we only do that for things we think are actually Upworthy” — which not only doesn’t discount the content, but might even reinforce a perception that it is reliable. Here, the line between editorial and advertising isn’t so much fluid as it is completely transparent — and maybe even irrelevant. But what’s missing is a way to take that inspiring content and do something with it.

Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and even Change.org have experimented with various degrees of success, but it’s RYOT News that gets closest to integrating different advocacy tools. RYOT’s mission is to drive an action with every story. But the content lacks curation, and the actions often feel like an afterthought.

The big opportunity here is for excellent content—long-form, persuasive reporting on par with the best media outlets in the world—combined with the frictionless integration of sophisticated advocacy tools. This new native advocacy could be a huge opportunity for whichever publications and nonprofits—and whichever slices of the ideological spectrum—manage to get it right first.

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