The term ‘native advertising’ continues to be used as a catch-all for many different things. In a digital marketing landscape that likes pigeonholing and compartmentalising new offerings even more than the music industry does, it’s in danger of becoming as wide and generic a description as the word ‘music’ is to describe the sound of the latest hot band.
In essence, native advertising is sponsored content that is relevant to the user experience, is not interruptive, and looks and feels the same as the surrounding content but where ads are clearly labelled as promoted or sponsored.
Native is not banner advertising; native ads are delivered where users are actually looking and engaging, in the content feed or well of a site. Native also doesn’t attempt to blur the lines between editorial and advertising – it’s always clearly labelled.
Unsurprisingly, social networks are already some of the largest users of native and allegedly where the term was first used: just look at Facebook Sponsored Stories or Twitter’s Promoted Tweets.
However, native is now a big deal for traditional online publishers and has started to mean different things to different parties who understand that native presents them with real value. Here’s our sometimes subjective take on how some of them are thinking about native:
Traditional display ad networks: “If we move our ad units into the middle of an article it’s a great way for us to rebrand and refresh our display offering and present it to agencies as an innovative new product.”
Agencies: “Native sounds great and really interesting. This is something our clients don’t yet know a huge amount about so we can champion this new ad spend for them and bring it to market. If it converts well, we’ll invest heavily into it; it clearly makes sense so let’s propose, test, learn and scale. “
Agency programmatic trading desks: “This looks like a good opportunity. Can it scale? If the technology platform is good enough then there are undoubtedly going to be elements of native that can be plugged in and run in a fully programmatic way. It’s a dynamic move away from the usual display ad units.”
Publishers: “It’s always contentious to blur the lines between editorial and advertising and we have to respect our end users. That said, compared to display ads the fact that native is content-based and always user-initiated is far more appealing. The best native advertising providers offer both a tech solution, demand and an improved ad revenue stream that will play a part in future-proofing our industry. Plus, the fact it also works on mobile and tablet devices means we can monetise this inventory properly. If the native content is good, editorially relevant to our readers – adds value – and is clearly labelled as sponsored, meaning we can earn valuable revenue from it, then native advertising is great.”
Brands: “In 2014 our priority is to build engagement with our customer base online. We’ve learnt that we can’t really build engagement in the same way as days gone by with display advertising. But we can with native and in a deeper, more narrative way. The engagement rates for native advertising are impressive and it allows us to reach our customers and interact with them and promote our branded content, across multiple publishers with a myriad of different content messages, all at scale through pure play native technologies and platforms. The days of having to go to individual publishers to get buy and sign off was painful and not scalable. Native platforms allow us real scale and reach. We get all the same measurement metrics as we do with display advertising and more but with far better results that meet our objectives. We like native – it allows us to tell our brand story but also get direct results and sales.”
PR agencies: “This term native keeps popping up online and in conversations with clients. To be honest, I thought at first it might be a bit of a threat. But having looked into it properly I can see how this will generate more exposure and engagement for my clients. I can also see how it will complement any PR promotions we are running too. Also as our clients see us as guardians of content development, native gives us an opportunity to work with them to create the relevant native content for their brands. That means more content generation and the client will need more of our time to get this right too. Plus we can take on managing the relationship with a native platform as clients don’t have the time to do this; so if I think about it, this could mean our client will look to increase our retainer. Where do I find that native network again?”
SEO agencies: “SEO has changed dramatically over the last three to four years as a result of Google’s algorithm updates. Now our main recommendation to clients is to create and publish good, shareable content. Google values social interactions with content. Native advertising helps us generate those shares, engagement levels and content views that is real content marketing, not black hat SEO. It works as a great tool to share the good branded content that we’re already creating.”
Content creators: “It looks like more people are going to need more great content created for them – and that doesn’t just mean the written word. Native ads will also need design, the right visual cues, video and really creative approaches to content. That all sounds good to me and means my career prospects look healthy.”
Digital marketing commentators: “The journalists and bloggers in this space are happy. At last, they think, a digital marketing phenomenon that we understand! Content, that’s our language. Can I ask my editor if I still have to brush up on RTB, analytics, search metrics and the rest?”
So in conclusion, while native is a new and still-evolving channel it’s already getting a lot of people very excited. It’s a welcome development from display ads, adding relevance, quality content and a welcome dose of sophistication to online advertising. And technology will continue to make its mark in the months ahead. Native, like display before it, will go programmatic once it has built critical mass of both supply and demand. Plus some providers are already retargeting native-engaged users with display ads, but as more sites use native ad platform technologies and build in native content placements the goalposts are going to shift.
At that point the key is going to be to retargeting people who engaged with native ads on site A with a different, but relevant and related, native ads and content on site B, C and D. At that point things will get really interesting.
Francis Turner is managing director at Adyoulike UK