“Kayfabe” Marketing: The Art of Successful Native Advertising
From the Oxford Dictionary, as added in 2015: kayfabe Syllabification: kay·fabe Pronunciation: /ˈkāˌfāb/
Noun – “the fact or convention of presenting staged performances as genuine or authentic.”
In 2015, a word which came from the strange community of carnival criers and ringleaders, propagated for close to a century by none other than the world of professional wrestling, and has been the unacknowledged technique of enlightened entertainers and native marketers alike for years finally entered the formal English lexicon. A term usually reserved for the vanguard of artistic practice, essentially described as an undeniable commitment to the notion of authenticity in a work of fiction, no matter the public perception, this modern era of reality has put its finger on the un-reality of “kayfabe”. Allegedly a somewhat pig-Latin pronunciation of “be fake” backwards, kayfabe blurs the line between false and true realities through force of will and product attitude. It is without doubt that the majority of consumers who over the years enjoyed innovative kayfabe performances knew exactly what they were dealing with. From street performances to public figures like legendary comedian Andy Kaufman, kayfabe work in the past has encountered both resistance and praise from audiences. Kaufman in particular merited acclaim and confusion for his extreme commitment to the legitimacy of his characters back when the world didn’t quite have an intellectual grasp on the notion of this thing we now call kayfabe, as it was then still thirty years away from an officially recognized definition. He didn’t even self-identify as a comedian, such was his commitment to his characters’ integrity. And no matter how many times those previously mentioned professional wrestling fans have been emphatically told that their preference of entertainment isn’t real, they continue to return to the product. So why is it that kayfabe can have inspired such befuddled controversy in the past, yet remained so effective to this day? What exactly does kayfabe achieve that non-kayfabe products do not? And what exactly is kayfabe to native marketing?
There is an idea that needs to be stated before we address the two, or single, concept or concepts of kayfabe and native advertising; that content, artistic content, which inspires and demands recognition as reality despite its fictitious nature, can be sold on those predicates. If art ever required such a suspension of disbelief, art was kayfabe, and native marketing itself is an artistic practice; an artistic practice with a dynamic hook that makes it impossible not to be willingly convinced by it. As it continues to grow in popularity, with statistics supporting its superiority to traditional advertising techniques improving by the numbers and specialists supporting it more every day, so improves native marketers understanding of the word “content”. Content- that vague form with wide application and little definition- is a blanket term used in native marketing to describe what is essentially the shape and function of their native ad which makes it native rather than traditional- that being its commitment to being consumed in the same manner and for the same reasons as the substantive content surrounding it. Native content then depends wholly on good content for the same reason non-marketing content relies wholly on just being good. In the same way a newspaper sells itself with good articles, so must a native marketing campaign sell its client’s product. Everything that is sold in some part sells itself. Native marketing has the incredible, kayfabe quality of selling not only an item or service with a price tag, but selling the content that is paired in gratuity along with it.
This is a selective practice, a pairing of page and piece to fit what needs selling amongst similar company, while keeping sponsored product from seeming blatantly pasted on those front pages. It is the job of native marketing then to be as authentic as one can possibly be while still using content as a reason to sell something when it would otherwise just be content. This content integrity may be a proper distinction then between “good” and “bad” kayfabe, as kayfabe must, upon being appealed to for its surface traits, reward the engagement with quality product. The practice of over-selling can be a death knell to any native ad, more likely to make viewers cringe with the grossly overt sale than focus from the quality of content. In kayfabe, over-selling the content breaks its authentic presentation and returns it to the level of what modern marketers might call “Clickbait”, having gone too far and achieved the same result as those that do not go far enough and arrives back at the level of bad native content. This “bad” kayfabe is the practice of selling an awesome authenticity to the consumer, one that, while not necessarily deceitful, can seem misleading or disingenuous to the reading, viewing consumer upon the reveal of its true content. Since Kayfabe’s main benefit is its conversion rate, as it takes advantage of what fictitious and non-fictitious elements suit it best, “good” kayfabe must have the same requisite attributes good native marketing has. Not only must the advertising element which is bound to be present post-conversion not jar the reader or viewer away with regret for their click, thereby jading the consumer, but it must actively hold their attention and encourage an active engagement.
Kayfabe integrates the viewer’s reality with fiction, fully selling the product’s story, and so though he or she may know of its true status within the realm of authenticity, it is viably real to them in another way, as being part of their lives. In presenting the inauthentic thing as authentic well enough, authenticity is established despite the objective acknowledgement that it is not necessarily so. This is an attainable dream, the goal of native advertising, to incorporate a marketed product alongside its content-based introduction. Fostering this sort of personal relationship to the content can create lifelong customers, so long as the advertising campaign commits to the kayfabe of it, of the native angle. It is not the job of this kind of marketing to totally obscure the reality of it, only to stick to the unreality in its demeanor. It is the difference between performance and a lie that can be so palatable when held to with admirable integrity and honest effort, which is what native advertising is meant to offer. A sincere, effective petition for the attention of the consumer in which both parties benefit, a mutual validation established in favor of a kayfabe. It’s not an advertisement. It’s content. It’s good content. And it’s good enough to buy.
written by Edward Colligan