Earlier this week, Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns delivered a delightful gift to Obama supporters, a mild stroke to the FOX News Nation, and a lesson to all content marketers. Unless you gave up all media for lent, you’ve seen the hilarious “PSA” episode splashed across anything with a screen. If not, enjoy.

A Native Advertising Summary

Before jumping into an analysis, let’s do a quick review. Native advertising is defined by the following three characteristics:

  1. It’s paid and must be noted as such.
  2. Its form blends in visually with the host platform/publisher.
  3. The content provides a similar experience to the host platform/publisher’s content.

As of this moment, IAB categorizes native ads into the following types:

  1. In-Feed (e.g. Forbes, YouTube, Facebook)
  2. Recommendation Widgets (e.g. Gravity, Outbrain, Taboola)
  3. Promoted Posts (e.g. Etsy, Amazon, Foursquare)
  4. Paid Search (e.g. Google, Bing, Ask)
  5. Custom (e.g. Pandora, Tumblr, Flipboard)
  6. In-Ad (e.g. Federated Media, Onespot, Martini Media)

Practically, I do not consider “in-ad” to be “pure” native advertising. It traditionally breaks characteristic points two and three. As a content marketer, I find “in-feed” the most effective because it gets my message directly in front of my target audience.

Who Should Care About Native Advertising?

If you’re concerned with any of the following, pay attention:

Poor Display Ad Conversions

You are more likely to survive a plane crash than click a banner ad. The stat is overhyped, but plummeting click-through rates and inventory-pricing provide confirmation—traditional display is dead. The few who do “click” are broke and uneducated. Moving budget to an in-feed, native ad will eliminate this budget suck.

Increased Mobile Access

In January, for the first time, Americans accessed the Internet more from smartphones and tablet apps than desktops. Mobile screens limit traditional ad space—another reason to move display budget to in-feed, native ads.

Brand Acceptance by Target Demographic

As demonstrated by the response to the Atlantic-Scientology affair, an in-feed native ad in no way guarantees brand acceptance. But, if executed correctly, it can be extremely effective in winning over your target demographic.

Now let’s look at how the president did.

Lessons from the Obama/Galifianakis Interview

As the President stated, his only purpose in appearing on “Between Two Ferns” was to promote HealthCare.gov. Since FunnyOrDie does not label the PSA as a sponsored ad, it fails to qualify as a true native advertisement. But, it adheres to the other two characteristics with its blended form and tone consistency, so we can still learn from its execution.

First, let’s address why President Obama “wasted time” appearing on a low-brow comedy website. Like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is now law. National success hinges heavily on participation from our nation’s youth. FunnyOrDie speaks to that audience. The President’s appearance on FunnyOrDie was a clear strategy to influence this important demographic.

Despite what the FOX News army screams, the numbers prove that Obama’s strategy was a success. Within 24 hours, the video captured 12 million views and 140,000 shares.

Four hours after airing, White House Senior Communications Advisor, Tara McGuinness, announced that FunnyOrDie.com was the number one referral site to Healthcare.gov.

If you didn’t think the interview was funny then you’re probably too old to get it. Let’s look at the key lessons:

Lesson One: Immerse your message within the environment.

The PSA was neatly packaged within the “Between Two Ferns” format and delivered the same awkward, humorous content Galifianakis fans love. Camouflaged within the native environment, the message reached a receptive audience before they raised their ad-defenses.

Lesson Two: Adapt your delivery to the environment.

The President adapted his delivery to the show’s native tone rather than staunchly adhering to the expected formality. Oftentimes, brands intent on retaining their “voice,” forget how to talk to their audience in a way they understand.

Lesson Three: Earn the “plug.”

Obama did not rush the “plug.” He earned it by focusing 80% of his time on entertaining, not selling. An effective native ad should first address your audience’s needs/wants (entertainment, education, etc.) then go for the plug.

Lesson Four: Provide a clear call to action.

President Obama left no doubt what he wanted us to do. He gave us two ways to find more information about the Affordable Care Act. This seems obvious, but I’ve seen numerous native ads where I had no idea what the sponsor’s identity was, much less what they wanted me to do after the ad. While an overt call to action may not always be in order, the overall message, as well as the sponsor’s product/service, must be clear to the reader.

No matter your political leanings, you have to admit that Obama’s marketing team executed another successful strategy. What were your main marketing takeaways from this video?