Thought Leadership

The Evolution Of Native Advertising

We have reached the second anniversary of The Debrief, our hugely successful young women’s media brand, which was launched and built entirely on a native advertising business model. It is a good time to reflect on what we have learned from working with advertisers and answering the needs of consumers in this rapidly changing media landscape. Here are six points to consider:

  1. The Debrief was built on native advertising, because 64% of our potential consumers told us that they understood that content needed to be paid for - advertising is accepted if it is authentic and added value. It is also important to recognise this change as a real and seismic shift in brand marketing because there are some major perceived threats right now – according to the IAB one in five people in the UK are now using ad blockers. We see this as an opportunity, and continually innovate to find ways to influence audiences – a reaction to the continued change in consumer behaviour.
  2. Not all content is equal. Our leadership in native comes from understanding the importance and value of powerful, curated content and the talented craftsmen and women that understand how to connect with valuable audiences. With this understanding, media owners are in a strong position to be able to respond to some of the challenges that marketing is facing today. Powerful media brands have influence over audiences which is key in today’s ever changing media world. A potent example of this is Grazia’s equal pay campaign, which has recently had a major influence on the changing of the law and the introduction of the Equal Pay Act later this year.
  3. Successful native advertising is built on deep knowledge and understanding of how to gain the attention of audiences through content that can move seamlessly across platforms. The Debrief started the national conversation around Food Shaming, when our news editor realised she’d been photographed eating on the tube. Following The Debrief article, coverage ran across national media outlets and the pressure led to the Facebook group being closed, only reopening later as a private group. This audience understanding can be built on to offer an influential root into powerful audiences for commercial partners – for example, we worked with Bacardi right from the launch of The Debrief. Their focus was to encourage the use of Bacardi in cocktails and promote their app, so our team crafted content around recommendations of where to go out, alongside inspiration for drinking and making cocktails at home. It worked – the content was some of the most popular on The Debrief and it drove more referrals to the app than any other commercial campaign, leading to repeat partnerships.
  4. Native advertising is not limited to magazine media brands. Absolute Radio is a leader in the radio market with its four year-long partnership with Wickes. They sponsor the Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show and use this as a platform to reach their trade customers every morning. The partnership has been a constantly evolving and seamless integration into the breakfast show, where we create competitions, ambitious story arcs, live events, outside broadcasts, stunts and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. It works for our listeners and it works for the client - econometric stats show that this activity delivers £10.6m total sales revenue for Wickes. Campaigns of this nature, which are constantly innovating to work alongside audience behaviour, are the most successful because they build on what we know our audience wants.
  5. Our audiences influence everything we do and we want to work with advertisers to extend this principle. Everything starts with the consumer. Another example for you… Empire’s longstanding relationship with Jameson shows how an advertiser can be involved in content that an audience really, really wants. ‘Done in Sixty Seconds’ has been created from the insight that “at the heart of every great movie is a great story”. Every year young filmmakers are given the challenge to recreate the story of the film in just 60 seconds which is then judged by a panel from Empire. It is the most incredible showcase of young talent and creativity and delivers that association with film that Jameson needs in a wonderful way.
  6. Native works best with clients ready to work in this new style of brand marketing. These are clients who are prepared to work with us, listen to our talent, learn with us about the consumer as they change and evolve. We find clients who understand the importance of this collaborative approach to produce content that is of value to the consumer first achieve the best results. But this is a step-change in the way advertising works, because the client is in a different position of control over the creative execution and the control instead lies with our talent. Our recent work with Boots demonstrates this well – they are an example of a client who has changed its approach to working directly with media owners in this way. The campaign, which ran across The Debrief, heat and Grazia, targeted 16-24 year olds to ask them to re-evaluate the Boots brand. We have just had the mid-term results and the approach is working, changing perception of Boots for the target group and driving purchase.


If you would like to talk more about native advertising opportunities across our portfolio of influential media brands, please drop me a line at We love to share more insights with you.