What Social Marketers Can Learn from GE and Netflix: the Power and Potential of Native Advertising


Native advertising is already extremely promising, but truly native advertising may end up being the most important form of advertising in existence. With such a massive shift of dollars from traditional to digital advertising, this transition can be intimidating for marketers. However, there are companies who are already taking the first important steps towards great native advertising and there is a lot we can learn from them.

One of the most recent native ad experiments has been commissioning journalistic content and placing it with publishers. But according to Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, the commissioning strategy is not working. Chartbeat has found that only 24% of native ad pieces get page-scrolling behavior, compared to 71% that regular content is receiving. And when it comes to engagement, on a native ad article one-third of people exhibit more than 15 seconds of engagement, half the engagement of a regular article.

So what does good native look like? Gus Wenner (Head of Digital at Wenner Media), in an interview with Digiday, provides us some insight into doing native partnerships that do work. “There’s a great opportunity to create a great editorial idea that requires funding by bringing on a sponsor that believes in it.” Essentially, he says that it’s when the native content creator (journalist/editor for a magazine) comes up with the idea. That’s key. Successful native advertising works when the original idea doesn’t come from the brand or the marketing team (which is the case when brand’s commission content). Instead, the creator’s passion for the idea ultimately makes the content authentic and valuable to the audience. The role for the brand or marketing team, then, isn’t to come up with the idea; rather, it is to help the idea be executed.


Though more content marketing than native advertising, a great example of a brand that’s finding success is GE, who has partnered with publishers including Vox, CNN, Politico, NBC News and more. They launched Pressing, a policy news hub that pulls content from their publishing partners. They also say that partnering with publishers helps GE because it keeps the creativity bar relatively low. That is, GE doesn’t have to come up with the content-they just have to find the content that their partners are coming up with and support it. The ultimate goal for the content hub is that “by giving people an editorial experience they like, they’ll develop a stronger affinity for the company.” GE says they want to be your Monday morning destination. They want to be “filling a void.” Again, whether it’s content marketing or native advertising it’s all about adding value to the customers with high quality content.


Netflix has been another notable success story for native advertising. They’ve run highly successful pieces with both the New York Times and Wired, telling journalistic narratives that transcend a “watch my show” sales pitch that many native advertisers try to do. The New York Times piece tells the story of women in prison that happened to perfectly match Netflix’s hit show, Orange is the New Black. The Wired article tells the story of changing consumer behavior as it relates to how we watch television, of which Netflix is a major driving force. Both sponsored stories work without Netflix-they just happen to work really well together. Pat Aufderheide, a communications professor at American University, says about the native articles, “I see journalistic value.” Just like GE, it’s about giving people the valuable editorial experience they like and expect from the sources they’re going to.

Applying it to social

The exact same is true in social media. Native advertising on social is most powerful and most influential when the original idea comes from the native content creator. In this case, that’s the everyday user of social. Advertising on social can’t be treated the same as other channels-it’s not banners, direct marketing, or television, where a brand-driven content experience is more commonly accepted. Just as editorials are fundamentally editor- or journalist-driven, social is fundamentally user-driven. How the brand impacts that experience must be treated as such.

So what can social marketers learn from brands like GE and Netflix? Just like Wenner said, find great content that you believe in (i.e. something that says great things about your brand or complements your brand story and positioning) and support it. Promote those posts and extend the reach of the user-driven content. Unlike most brands’ advertising, user posts have authenticity and innate value because it’s the everyday conversations between friends and family. It’s the social experience they are already having and enjoy.

The editorial content that GE and Netflix sponsored probably would have happened with or without them. The difference is that their partnership increased the production value and greatly expanded its reach. Likewise in social, the word-of-mouth interactions are happening every day. However, the massive marketing potential for those posts goes largely wasted because brands aren’t tracking, analyzing, and building a strategy around them.

GE and Netflix gave us the key-marketers just need to apply it to social channels. Marketers can leverage the content that already exists and achieve great success in native social advertising if they follow their lead.


Want more on how to do social better? Subscribe to the blog or send me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to chat.


Written by Jordan Con