Mad Men, the Newsroom – given their subject matter, these are cable shows you expect to have their fingers on the pulse of publishing and advertising trends, no matter when they take place. However, the undisputed champ, at least when it comes to native advertising is HBO's Girls.
HBO is no stranger to native ads and sponsored content when it comes to their television shows. The Game Of Thrones pieces on Buzzfeed, such as this quiz asking how much you know about the night's watch, are used as de facto standards when describing effective native advertising, let alone that used for television. Girls is no different. Leading up to this year's season premiere, the show's marketing team furiously added users to the photo sharing network, Snapchat (their users conveniently fit into Girls fans demographics).
Snapchat let's users follow friends (and brands) and in turn send their followers timed messages containing a video or pictures which can't be retrieved again once the timer runs out. With their new batch of followers, Girls would send out production shots from the upcoming season, red carpet photos, and cryptic drawings referring to plot-lines in the earlier seasons. In turn, their followers would get excited for the upcoming premiere and share screenshots on their social networks of choice.
So far this is mildly innovative - media marketing departments are known to quickly adopt new tools when it comes to promotion. The real adoption of native advertising comes in the show's story! (Spoiler alert for those have not yet seen the Feb 9 2014 episode).
It's the meta circumstances in which Girls presents the situationthat is truly innovative.
Aspiring writer Hannah, played by show creator Lena Dunham, starts work at GQ in their equivalent of a sponsored content department, much like the HuffPost Partner Studio. The plot revolves around her trepidation and sometimes dissatisfaction with the work, though she seems to be well suited for the job. The show specially points out she is working on a piece for Neiman-Marcus.
Again, product placement is nothing new in television. Any casual viewing of a Netflix series like Orange Is The New Black or House Of Cards proves the streaming company has created a brand new revenue model based on actors holding a bottle of soda prominently. It's the meta circumstances in which Girls presents the situation – a plot-line featuring GQ and Neiman-Marcus working together on native advertising, which in and of itself might be native advertising – coupled with the shows evident strength when it comes to social promotion that is truly innovative.
HBO is known as a network that tests the limits with its content, and redefined the way television is made and consumed. It would seem the same spirit runs through their marketing department.