Native advertising is another of the most-buzzed-about elements of digital media right now -- but it’s not scalable, and it’s at odds with everything else currently happening in the business.
Native advertising is actually a new term for an old idea: customized ad integrations for a single partner. The Web was launched with it, and native advertising of another kind is what I think keeps print from fading away. Back in 1996 and 1997 we “spotted” the Web for the release of Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” film release, so native advertising has been here for a very long time. It worked great -- but back then, everything worked great!!
The conflict comes from the shift toward efficiency and programmatic buying. For native advertising to work requires two things: performance and scale. It needs to perform better than a wider message cast across multiple partners. It also needs to deliver an audience large enough to make the investment pay off. Does anyone else see a problem with this formula?
I’m not saying there’s no place for native advertising to be integrated into marketing. There most certainly is. It’s just not going to grow to the size some people in the press would have you believe. It will be a piece of the media mix, but it will never be the entirety of a marketer’s budget.
I can see a world where native advertising can become the creative hook of a digital campaign, and maybe even become the destination. For example, a brand could spend the majority of their digital dollars against targeted, data-informed outreach that reduces waste and drives efficiency, and a portion of the click-through could point to a co-marketing effort where the brand engages in a native advertising partnership with the publisher. We see examples of this already when an auto company points the reader to Google to search for their brand, and Google delivers a special page either through partnership or SEO. This was executed by a few brands over the last two years -- and though not really a clear example of native advertising, it is an example of how one media venue could point to a second one in favor of a brand.
In sports, think of a trade within three teams where everyone benefits -- that could happen in advertising. Other more relevant examples are fully integrated takeovers and special content areas of well-known sites. These work great, but you have to weigh the untargeted nature of the delivery (every Web page has “wasted impressions” against someone other than your exact target audience, unless you layer in audience buying) with the cost for development of that integrated effort. It’s a one-time use creative push, and the ROI has to be strong to rationalize that delivery.
I think Pandora’s box has been opened, and the age of data and targeting is here. push for native advertising, to me, feels like a step backwards. It feels like we’re trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. Native advertising will have its place, but it will and should be a small place.
What do you think? Is native advertising worthy of the press attention it’s getting?