When Yahoo spent $1.1 billion to buy social blogging platform Tumblr, there was a huge amount of discussion around what it meant. Whilst only Marissa Mayer and the Yahoo board can be anywhere near certain why the deal was done, what is clear is that this is part of an interesting experiment to decide what the next stage of Internet advertising will look like.
Because whilst Yahoo is also now apparently eyeing up a bid for video platform Hulu, Tumblr seems to be Yahoo’s attempt to get to grips with native advertising.
As I’ve said recently, content marketing wasn’t invented with the Web (I’d suggest that the soap companies who spawned soap operas could take credit for that); and equally, native advertising has been around for a long time.
If we define native ads as marketing material that mirrors the content it surrounds, then you could easily argue that ads in TV, newspapers and on the radio are very often native — they look and “feel” like the actual content. In many ways, non-native ads really came about with the Web — with Web banners that often stick out from the surrounding content.
Tumblr, which spurns “standard” display advertising, instead asks advertisers to create content similar to that of ordinary users and then pay to promote that content, is very different from the rest of Yahoo.
In many ways, it’s often hard to tell the difference between native advertising and content marketing, but the aim with both is to truly connect with an audience. The challenge with native advertising is also similar to that with content marketing — it tends to take more human resources than more traditional forms. Brands often find it easier to buy ads than to hire the resource required for the former: money scales, content generation, in whatever form.
This then is likely to be the challenge for brands thinking of investing time and money in platforms like Tumblr, and therefore Yahoo, which needs to make back its money.
If you really want to get the most from platforms like these, you need to be fully engaged with them. And whilst for many brands it will make sense to be on Tumblr, for many more, particularly outside the big-spending US, that already have to manage Facebook and Twitter presences (with all the demands these bring), adding another one into the mix is going to be a struggle.
For brands then, a decision needs to be made about where the best place is to invest time, energy and resources. Brands also need to determine whether they can really fit into a world of gifs and memes (yes, we can apparently).
So, if Yahoo does end up snapping up Hulu for $800 million, it could turn out to be a much easier way to make money than trying to convince brands that native can truly scale.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.