Unilever’s Partnership with MTV to Bring Back “House of Style” as a Multiplatform Native Advertising Vehicle; Provides a look both at the Benefits and Challenges of Native Advertising


An interesting article in AdWeek discusses MTV’s decision to bring back one of its iconic shows from the early nineties. “House of Style” which aired from 1989 to 2000 was originally brought back in 2012, but then was shelved again until recently when Unilever agreed to sponsor a re-launch of the series that will feature both online and on air components, including components integrated into the Video Music Awards.

For Unilever, the sponsorship offers an opportunity to promote some of its brands such as Unilever’s Caress, Degree Women, and TRESemmé brands through intelligent product integrations built into different episodes. For instance, the second episode of the show focuses on pop star Iggy Azalea’s new music video which features scenes of physically intensive martial arts oriented dance moves that will also provide ample opportunities to discuss the benefit of Degree’s sweat combating properties.

The partnership between MTV, while mutually beneficial, is particularly interesting because of the opportunities it presents Unilever to leverage native advertising, a form of advertising that has become increasingly attractive, especially in the digital space. As many organizations invest larger amounts of their marketing budgets into digital the conversation of how to diversify that investment and which mediums provide the maximum value has become increasingly important. A big part of this discussion relates to what part of the web browser’s screen is most effective to be positioned within and how can this be done most effectively.

Click through rates for banner advertisements have become increasingly less effective over time. Banner advertisements are placed typically around the periphery of a webpage and many consumers have learned to tune them out and focus in on the center of the web page where the content they are interested in typically is. For marketers, being able to promote their brands within the center space of the web page provides a number of benefits including increased attention from consumers. In fact, a study by the 614 group that was discussed in an article in AdWeek found that 69% of marketers believe that native advertising is important, although the extent of its impact is still in question.

For Unilever partnering with MTV on re-launching “House of Style” seems to be a wise move. For many media websites the interest from organizations in this form of advertising is attractive because of the revenue potential that comes from selling these opportunities. For traditional publishers of the news this is especially the case given challenges experienced in finding ways to effectively monetize their online efforts as their print forms become less attractive to consumers.

The challenge in many of these arrangements is being able to provide content that the viewer will find interesting and valuable, while also promoting the brand and maintaining credibility for the website that is providing the opportunity. BuzzFeed is a great example of a new age media company that has seen success in its native advertising efforts delivered through its “Brand Publishers” (for an example, see this article published by Burger King on BuzzFeed). Consumers typically seem more accepting of native advertising when employed by new age media companies.

For more traditional media companies, such as the New York Times consumers seem to be less accepting of native advertising (typically called “sponsored posts”) where it is perceived as more deceptive given the expectations that viewers have of the credibility of the articles and posts published on these sites. If you’re interested in learning more about the factors that both news outlets and companies should consider when examining the value of native advertising a really great post on ZDNet summarizes some of the key findings from a study that IAB/Edelman conducted with 5000 consumers on the topic.

From a marketing management perspective here are some questions to consider related to native advertising:

  • As a manager for the Wall Street Journal in charge of strategic decisions in advertising and marketing would you engage in selling native advertising opportunities to companies? What factors would you consider in making the decision? If you would go ahead and offer native advertising opportunities how would you approach identifying the right companies to work with?
  • As a marketing manager of an organization what information would you consider in order to determine which media outlets would be the best fit for native advertising opportunities for your organization?
  • As a marketing manager how would you measure the value of a native advertising investment for your brand or product?