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How native advertisers can stay ahead in 2023: Less narcissism, more courting

By Adam Abelin on February 27, 2023

In our self-absorbed age, it's no longer about making your brand look special, it's about making your customers feel special.

What the heck does Narcissus have to do with advertising?

Greek mythology's Narcissus was renowned for his extraordinary beauty. So much so that he fell in love with his own image! The nymph that fell in love with him was named Echo. He paid her no attention, although she kept trying to get through to him. The story of Narcissus and Echo serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of self-worship.

The myth gave rise to the term "narcissism," which refers to an excessive focus on oneself.

Narcissism also shows up in marketing. 

‘Marketing narcissism’ is simply the traditional approach to marketing, i.e. talking about yourself and only about yourself.

Today’s savvy marketer knows that this narcissistic approach is outdated. The battle for the audience's attention is no longer about making brands look special; it's about making customers feel special.

The decline in ad effectiveness

Too many ads with intrusive and interruptive formats irritate consumers and cause them to pay less attention. When factoring in how many people are bothered by advertisements and how little real attention they garner among consumers, the effectiveness of advertising has never been lower, according to a report from the media agency Mindshare.

In fact, the number of internet users actually seeing ads has decreased, with around 43 percent of users now using ad blockers.

The realization that online advertisers need new strategies is not new. The following quote from marketing consultant Jacob Holst Mouritzen remains relevant despite being five years old:

"If we don't do something radical, we risk the advertising industry disappearing. We are probably the only industry that supplies products that consumers make a significant effort to avoid. We are undermining our own existence by buying advertising that consumers hate.”

Since Mouritzen made his observation, consumer interest in advertising has diminished even further.

Thus, the pertinent question now is: What options do you have as a marketer to create valuable advertising that does not irritate customers?

Courting your customers

The suitor is the polar opposite of the narcissist. The emphasis in courting is on the recipient rather than on oneself. The suitor attempts to attract the attention of the other party through words or actions in order to establish a long-term relationship.

One of the more ‘suitor-based’ forms of advertising is native advertising.

The defining characteristics of native ads are that they are non-disruptive, relevant and valuable to the audience. In other words, they must meet the audience's expectations and not interrupt their experience or detract from the overall quality of the content. They must court the audience rather than be enamoured with their own reflection.

This is achieved by creating ads that match the form, feel and function of the content they are placed alongside.

Targeted messaging

Whereas ads that are too loud or distracting irritate people and make them pay less attention, native advertising is designed to blend seamlessly into the content of the media in which it appears. Native advertisements increase engagement because they provide value to the target audience and are based on the consumer's interests. Hence, sponsored content is as likely to be read, shared and recommended as editorial content. Plus, native ads are not blocked by ad blockers, so they reach more people.

Native advertising is thriving, but which formats will see the most growth in the future?


Many people use ad blockers to avoid the video format called ‘pre-rolls’ and look for formats that are more engaging. This could be, for example, a video that is embedded in a blog post.

Here are some ways to spot the difference between this format and pre-rolls.

Pre-rolls: You want to watch the weekend's Premier League goals on a sports website but are instead greeted by an advertisement video with a nappy offer. You must watch the video all the way through before you can see the goals.

Content-based ads: You decide to visit a pregnancy-related website. You click on an article about the postpartum period, perhaps written by an expert journalist. An advertiser has sponsored this article, which includes a video supporting the text. The video lets you order free diapers.

Five to ten times as many people will watch the whole content-based video than the pre-roll format.

Programmatic buying

Programmatic advertising is digital advertising that relies on real-time bidding and machine learning.

Many examples of native ads today are personalised advertising materials created by publishers in collaboration with their advertisers. Scaling and automation become a challenge and a problem during this time-consuming and costly process. This is no longer the case when programmatic purchasing is available. It offers advantages such as greater transparency, more effective targeting, higher cost-effectiveness, real-time data and more.

Programmatic purchase formats can be useful for generating qualified traffic at a low cost while also providing good coverage in the target group. However, the formats do have limitations when it comes to text and images. As a result, it is advised to combine it with other native ad formats.


Podcasting has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to continue. At the same time, the ad numbers have risen significantly.

RELATED: Podcasts deliver – for listeners and native advertisers

Advertising in podcasts can provide several benefits. The target group is frequently more educated and has a higher income than the general population. These are also devoted listeners who frequently have one or more favourite podcasts to which they devote their undivided attention.

According to several studies, it is a type of advertising in which the user has a higher level of trust.

Finding the right balance

Two advertising archetypes have been examined in this article: the narcissist and the suitor.

It is not necessary to choose one type over another, because both can be useful. Native ads are typically a good format for increasing engagement and purchase intent, but they have a more difficult time competing for directly derived sales.

The goal is to strike the right balance between these archetypes. If we don't, the relationship between advertiser and consumer could end up like Narcissus and Echo.

In the end, Narcissus dies because he is so preoccupied with himself that he has no time to eat and drink. His final words to Echo are "In vain, my love, goodbye," and Echo responds in kind.

Narcissus painting: Nicolas Bernard Lépicié, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons