Color us curious … always.

In a variety of ad rags and online media, the words “native advertising” are getting big headlines, the paid media’s latest effort to get more attention and click-throughs from consumers.  Pew Research, in fact, estimates that going native has already accounted for some $1.56 billion in spend, with a super-impressive growth rate of 39 percent each year.

Definitions are a-plenty, ranging from “stories, posts, videos, and photos produced by a brand” to “less intrusive ads that provide interesting and useful information.”  In many instances, native is sponsored content – whimsical videos of dogs and cats brought to you by Purina, as one – that blends into the Web site, feed, or other digital formats.

Right now, yes, it’s hot; IPG says native ads are viewed 53 percent more frequently than banner ads.  [In our opinion, anything would be watched more often than those Web displays.]  There are a couple of buts in that prediction.

The first “but”?  That the native spot fit seamlessly into what we’re watching or reading or listening to.  It can’t interrupt our flow, or disrupt the search.

The second “but” is one that a number of advertisers have already flaunted – and paid for dearly.  And that is the demand for authenticity and transparency.  If it is indeed a sponsored post or image, say so.  And do it upfront.  A number of platforms (and their users) scrutinize all things advertising, and have no hesitation in calling out those who don’t comply.

The third “but”:  Make this message worth our time.  Ensure that it’s high quality and relevant to what we’re doing right now.  If it’s boring or doesn’t  add value, we’ll quickly skip to something else.  Trust us.

And, the final “but”:  In the spirit of nothing’s new under the sun, native advertising smacks of old-fashioned advertorials, those two-page print spreads (sometimes longer) often appearing in popular magazines and labeled as ads (though written as editorials).  John Deere did that with The Furrow magazine for farmers, starting in 1895.  And Michelin, with its guide that launched in 1900.  What we fear for this latest trend is that, in our ADHD world, native will soon become an alien experience. Instead, we’d urge marketers and branding gurus and communicators to think well ahead, and deliver messages that anticipate the medium, with truth and transparency and no little intellectual vigor for all.