Native Ads, Flamingos and Millennials

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It’s Advertising Week in NYC and continuing the trend this year, everyone is aflutter about Native Advertising. There is also specific focus on how to reach out to Millennials. Separately, I found myself reading a lot about something seemingly unrelated–Flamingos. And it got me thinking: Flamingos and Millennials are both an interesting bunch. If we parallel the two, there are some very relevant and important lessons we can extract about the value of Native Advertising.

Let’s start with flamingos. They live in huge colonies; sometimes 200,000 birds flock together in a single group. They’re a chatty bird and have high situational awareness. If one bird notices something, the rest of them will be squawking about it soon enough. Flamingos are very unique looking with long skinny legs, upside down beaks, and bright pink plumage. It’s one of nature’s most peculiar and unintentionally comedic species.

But why are their beaks upside down? Why the awkward and gangly legs? Turns out, because of the competitive environment, flamingos’ only feeding options happen to be in shallow, silted waters. In order to feed in that type of environment, they need the extra height from their legs to stand over the water and shuffle their flamingo paws to kick up silt. Their upside down beaks also make a lot of sense. They kink their necks downward like a backhoe to scoop up the silted water and filter out nutrients. The disadvantage of feeding like this is that they’re susceptible to predators, so they travel in groups, with some feeding and some on the lookout for danger. And they’re pink because of the minerals in the silt.

If you want to feed a flamingo, you need to find where they congregate, approach in a non-threatening manner, and seed the area with tasty flamingo treats. It’s the only way to go. You can’t get a single flamingo to just fly over to your residence and eat a steak at your house. They don’t want to leave their flamingo friends, or their flamingo food, just to visit a stranger (I may be wrong. Maybe you’re the flamingo whisperer. But you’re probably not). Let’s shift gears with the Flamingo in mind and think about an equally social, peculiar, fickle and beautiful species: The Millennial.

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Millennials may also have pink plumage and travel in highly communicative and situationally aware social groups. There is a big herd of them—the biggest generational cohort since the Baby Boomers. They happen to spend more money than any other generational consumer group. So how do you get them to eat your tasty Millennial treats?

First they need to know what you’re hawking. Marketers (and parents) lament that these Millennials have such fragmented attention, “…its difficult to communicate with them”. Those lamentations should (after denial, anger, bargaining, etc.) eventually yield to contemplation. This new generation is a product of their environment. The generation before created technology that increased the availability, speed and volume of information. Millennials just adapted to the environment.

So you created this beast, and now you need to feed it in order to survive. Our economy depends on it. But how? Consider the Flamingo.

First, you have to find where your audience naturally goes. Second, you need to approach with caution; the herd recognizes outsiders and will set to squawking. Next, you need to look at what they’re already eating and apply those flavors to your own feed that in their natural congregational spots.

You have to introduce your story in a place and form that mirrors your audience’s natural consumption pattern. That’s the definition of alignment and native advertising: showing you care about something that your audience does by showing up in the same place. What you introduce is even more important. Marketing always comes down to story telling. You need to tell a story that recognizes the location or spirit of the destination that attracted the audience in the first place. Finally, be cool—if your audience shows up for one thing, don’t yank their attention away from their story. That’s what predators do. And millennials will alert the crowd to predators and flee en masse.

Really though, you should take a thoughtful approach. When the audience takes a break from what they came to do at a site, invite them to check out your story as well. “Native advertising” is just a new way to describe advertising done well. The right story, for the right product, in the right place, at the right time.

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