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Native ads represent an exciting new opportunity for savvy media agencies

Before Christmas, MailOnline, the world's biggest newspaper site, quietly began experimenting with native advertising. Its initial trial was with Marks & Spencer, but the publisher has been tight-lipped about the details.

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week

Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign, editor of Media Week

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What I do know is that the content was written by a MailOnline journalist, in collaboration with M&S, and required sign-off from editor-in-chief, Martin Clarke, himself.

It appeared within the site’s standard news template and was sold at a high premium. More will follow.

Bauer this week launched a "digital-first" product, The Debrief – a lifestyle brand for women that will be funded by native ads. Richard Dunmall, the managing director of advertising, captured the trade-off well when he told me: "This group are really happy with the exchange between quality content, brands and their time."

Everyone is going native in media and adland – and it already means different things to different people. Many customer publishers are frankly bemused by all the fuss. To them, this is their day job: producing quality content for brands that will deliver engaging relationships, consumer value and measurable success.

However, when it comes to the recent rise of content marketing, it is context, not content, that sets it apart. The discipline has not gained a new lease of life simply because the world has fallen in love with words, unfortunately. No, it is gaining traction because of developments in media and technology.

When it comes to the recent rise of content marketing, it is context, not content, that sets it apart

Websites, video and social media networks and their "in-stream" messaging and viral nature have created the context in which native ads can thrive.

The creation part might be new to agencies, but it all still starts with sharp consumer insight – something agencies have always excelled at.

Couple this with an unrivalled knowledge about how to distribute content at scale across the bought, owned and earned ecosystem and our media forum question - 'Should agencies get involved in content' - begins to look like a no-brainer.

Hamish Priest, who manages global media innovation for Unilever’s Dove, is among those asking for media agencies to work more closely with content creators, telling an IPA event this week: "Content without reach is like building cathedrals in the desert."

The Internet Advertising Bureau now plans to explore best trading practices for native ads – a response to "an explosion of paid-for content opportunities". The industry body says it has been bombarded with expressions of interest. The inexorable rise of all things native suggests the debate has only just begun.

Should media agencies get into content - vote here

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