How Standardization Is Helping Native Advertising Scale

How important are standards in the rapidly growing native advertising ecosystem?  Consider, for a moment, the incandescent light bulb.

A marvel of technological innovation, the incandescent light bulb revolutionized modern society, providing light indoors and out that was so superior to what it ultimately replaced (candles, gas lights, arc lamps) that it virtually wiped out an entire industry in barely three years.  And yet an entirely new industry was able to rapidly take hold, as competitors, partners, and inventors all jumped in to improve every aspect of Edison’s original invention.  How wide should the base of a light bulb actually be? How to get the electricity into the home?

As the market scrambled to incorporate the innovations to meet the needs of the market, an industry standards organization was born.  The AIEE, The American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and its successor organization, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), created the standards that enabled the industry to develop and scale to where it is today.  And none of it would have been possible without standards.

So what’s all this got to do with native advertising?

In the early days of Internet display advertising, standards -- including standard banner ad dimensions, tracking methodologies, and delivery verification -- helped make it easier for big ad spenders to shift dollars away from other more established media..  Most of all, standards took a significant amount of pain out of the process of planning, buying and selling digital advertising.

That same dynamic, and need, is asserting itself in the world of native advertising now.  Conventional wisdom might argue that standards are irrelevant or not even possible here, since for an ad to actually be native means it needs to be unique to the site it appears on (and completely different on another site.) Still, as advertisers have begun to embrace native advertising, they have felt the pain of running multiple campaigns across multiple publishers at scale.  So the market felt the need to create a more standardized approach to native ad units, and it was this market need that the IAB responded to with the Native Advertising Playbook.  

Significantly, the IAB never actually intended to establish standards and didn’t even use the word in the Playbook.  They began with simple definitions and progressed to identification of various native ad executions.  Importantly, the Playbook also articulated principles around disclosure, and attempted to coach marketers on how to evaluate various native approaches relative to their brand marketing objectives.  Yet standards have actually emerged de facto.  And this is a really good thing.

What’s emerging in the marketplace is a well-understood set of very tactical ad products, all of which have been articulated by the IAB in the Playbook as the Core Six:  In-feed, Recommendation Widgets, Paid Search, In-Ad, Promoted Listings, and Custom. 

While this might be old news to some of us, ad buyers are still learning about the units and how best to use them.  The good news is that by creating definitions, the IAB is providing valuable clarity, which translates to less friction, and ultimately big scale.

What’s next?  Standards will emerge for measurement, ad delivery, and even how exchanges should operate with native ad units.  Already, the IAB has developed the OpenRTB 2.3 specification -- a standard -- that is driving rapid-scale increases of native-only ad exchanges.

As details from organizations like IAB are developed and released, standards naturally emerge.  That is happening now in native, and it is fueling a rapid increase in scale, making for an increasingly vibrant marketplace.

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