It says something about our media culture that in a short time the term "native advertising" has gone from industry buzzword to pop culture punch line.
The two most memorable references come from HBO. On "Girls," Lena Dunham's Hannah takes—and soon leaves—a writing job in the sponsored content department at GQ. More recently on "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver delivers an entertaining riff about the profusion of "sponsored content" on news sites.
Oliver conceded that Netflix's native ad for the New York Times about female prison inmates, promoting the series "Orange Is the New Black," was "about as good as it gets." This got us thinking about all the other noteworthy executions this year which demonstrate that sponsored content can indeed be good—nay, great—content. With that in mind, we asked some of the native advertising gurus here at HuffPost-AOL to name their picks for the most notable native or branded content campaigns of the year thus far, both from around the Web as well as in-house.
Here's what we came up with, in alphabetical order by advertiser:
Name: Ginny Yang, associate director, Marketing Solutions, HuffPost Partner Studio
Pick: "Re:Form": BMW for Medium
Why: BMW launched the design-focused vertical "Re:Form" as part of a six-month partnership with Medium. The site has a gorgeous layout and with articles covering everything from making mixtapes to floating architecture, there's something for every arts & design enthusiast.
Name: Jeff Turner, director of ad product and monetization at the Huffington Post
Pick: "Food For Thought": Chipotle for the Huffington Post
Why: This article is not just a click-worthy headline, it's an informative and interesting post that highlights a serious (read: disgusting) issue in a light-hearted way. This "know what is in your food" angle proved to be a conversation-starter that was very impactful for Chipotle. Additionally, this post was, and still is, one of our top mobile performers.
Name: April Saylor, social engagement strategist, HuffPost Partner Studio
Pick: "Which Brew Are You?": Esquire Network for Huffington Post
Why: It's visually appealing, and the layout is really clean. The content itself is quirky and cute, and the results are funny enough to warrant sharing with friends.
Name: Fara Warner, editorial director at Aol Tech and This Built America
Pick: "This Built America": Ford for AOL
Why: As we mark the halfway point in the yearlong series, we decided to take a different approach to this episode on Denver Tent, looking at how one man has found refuge in the wilderness by camping for weeks at a time in Denver Tent's custom made canvas tents. The episode reflects how the advertiser is supporting the hopes, dreams and ambitions of people using and making things in America.
Who: Jackie Bernstein, senior content strategist, HuffPost Partner Studio
Pick: "First Moon Party": HelloFlo on YouTube
Why: HelloFlo is a brand that probably had little awareness before their videos went viral—this video has 27 million views and counting—but they get their female audience with a story that doesn't pander to them. The videos are hilarious, nostalgic, and zeitgeisty all at once. Has female empowerment and body positivity ever been so trendy? I'm glad it is in 2014.
Name: Baomy Wehrle, director of Huffington Post Brand Strategist
Pick: "TV Got Better": Netflix for Wired
Why: Yes, everyone is talking about the NYT's Netflix piece, but did you also see their Wired partnership? The whole execution is a super immersive experience with editorial, images and video flowing beautifully together. I'm looking forward to seeing more native content utilize long form storytelling templates with technological bells and whistles.
Name: Tessa Gould, senior director of native advertising at HuffPost Partner Studio
Pick: "We've Disguised This Newscastle Ad as an Article to Get You To Click It": Newcastle Brown Ale for Gawker
Why: It's safe to say that Newcastle and Gawker nailed it with this super tongue-in-cheek approach. A bogus focus group reviewing the "S**** B***" ad Newcastle would have created "if they had the time, money and permission to advertise in the game." The result appealed directly to Newcastle's target demographic by not taking itself too seriously. It was a smart strategy and one that helped Newcastle hijack the conversation around Big Game advertising.
Name: Julia Halewicz, senior editor, Custom Solutions at AOL
Pick: "Scientists Posit Theoretical 'Productive Weekend'": Starbucks Doubleshot® Espresso for The Onion
Why: Here's a great example of a brand embracing a bold editorial voice and pairing it with creative that speaks to a specific audience. Integrating a brand mention at the end does not compromise the integrity of the piece. In fact, it actually makes Doubleshot Espresso part of the satire while simultaneously bringing attention to the brand. The whole thing is simply perfect.