Sorry, I Don't See The Web Going 'Native' Anytime Soon

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?

9 comments about "Sorry, I Don't See The Web Going 'Native' Anytime Soon".
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  1. Max Kalehoff from SocialCode, December 5, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.

    Great point. I think where I might argue with you as that some native advertising is reaching high scale. The obvious example of that is Facebook, where owned, earned and paid media are colliding. To be sure, the challenge is scale, but Facebook, its PMD partners, agencies and marketers are continuing to invest, experiment and figure it out. Native advertising really requires integrated marketing capability. Will advertisers ever get there?

  2. Sione Palu from Feynmance, December 5, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.

    Cory, one can always learn new topics and concepts. Native advertising is a new term to me, so I just learn about it from reading your article. My background is analytics and not advertising, however in saying that, I learn concepts in marketing & advertising back to front. This means that I frequently read various research papers on analytical methods that are quite familiar to me (ie, I use those same methods or variants of them all the time in analytics for other domains), but they happen to be applied in the domain of marketing & advertising. Analytical methods are quite universal. What I mean here, is that an engineer who has no background in marketing or advertising but say, he or she's working on image processing application for image clustering. It's the same computational method/s he/she's using as the ones used by marketing analysts to cluster or segment customers. Although the engineer has no prior domain knowledge in marketing or advertising, once he reads a research paper on marketing & advertising that uses the same (or similar) analytical methods that's he/she's been using in his domain for image clustering, he/she will quickly learn about marketing & advertising concepts. I Googled for "native advertising" and came up with a few but Todd Wasserman article on ("What Is 'Native Advertising'? Depends Who You Ask") was very informative. I also searched on Google Scholar to see if there's any academic research that has been done on "native advertising" topic but none. It means that it is a buzz-word as you stated correctly in your article.

  3. Sione Palu from Feynmance, December 5, 2012 at 4:33 p.m.

    Max Kalehoff, as stated in my post above already, that one always learn new concepts or terms, such as I learnt about "integrated marketing" you mentioned in your message. I found the following on the topic which is very interesting to me (from an analytic and a computational point of view - apart from marketing and advertising of course) because one of the methods described (fuzzy inference system) is quite familiar to me. "The Fuzzy DEMATEL Based Impact Derivations for Integrated Marketing Communications on the High-Technology Brands". It is freely available here:

  4. Ryan Charleston from, December 5, 2012 at 4:41 p.m.

    Interesting perspective Cory, I understand your caution on not getting too optimistic, bur to say native advertising it’s "not scalable, and it’s at odds with everything else currently happening in the business", not sure what you're referring to there. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks have been doing a form of native advertising with sponsored stories and a handful of successful publishers are seeing great success with native advertising (TechCrunch and Buzzfeed to name two). More ad automation and things like RTB create efficiency, but also may have the effect of reducing overall ad quality across the web if we’re not careful. I think new platforms will be invented to “scale” up native advertising more than you think. Just look at ShareThrough and check out a company called Narrative Science! They could make things interesting if you apply their technology to the ad business. I agree with you on some points, native advertising new entirely, but new technologies and online customer behaviors are giving it new shape and a new life. Advertisers are increasingly seeking out interesting, unique, and creative ways to run campaigns while publishers try to create better user experiences with less traditional ad units. I just launched a new concept ( which is actually one of the most literal interpretations of "native advertising" you can get, with ads as content and content as ads. It's a niche, but a niche nonetheless, and something that will grow to be a decent portion of digital marketing in years to come!

  5. Arlo Laitin from Cardlytics, Inc, December 5, 2012 at 6:11 p.m.

    Cory, I respectfully disagree. I believe your definition of 'native' is too narrow, as it shouldn't be limited to branded content/advertorial type executions. I would venture to say that native ads are already the main driver of online advertising revenue today- Adwords. Much of Googles original success was predicated on eschewing banners and creating text ads that were "native" to the users search experience.

    Ultimately, native is about respecting the customer and providing value. Banners may be easier to buy at scale, but driving meaningful, engaging communications should be the goal, not finding faster, more efficient ways of filling holes on pages.

  6. Chris Schreiber from sharethrough, December 5, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.

    Appreciate the discussion you've started Cory. Though I also disagree with the POV. To Arlo's point, it sounds like you are using a limited definition of native advertising rather than taking into account the ad systems created by Twitter, FB, Adwords, and many of the other social media giants that have created native ad products. We are now seeing the next wave of native advertising with editorial publishers opening up native ad placements en masse. It's going to happen, but not just because the press has been writing about it, but because it has to, the attention problem with banner ads is not going away.

  7. David Carlick from Carlick, December 6, 2012 at 10:55 a.m.

    Cory, I have to line up with the opposition on this one, given the budgets going to Facebook and Twitter. Also, at NetSeer, the platform can identify the concepts on a given page and match the concepts from the advertiser to those, in effect allowing 'native' advertising where the ad message is a relevant part of the discussion, rather than an interruptive banner. I personally (disclosure, I am a director) see this as a substantial opportunity as well.

  8. Cory Treffiletti from Voicera, December 6, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.

    I rarely actually respond to my responses, but this is a hot topic so i feel i have to. I appreciate everyone voicing their opinion, but the defense that i keep seeing is that Facebook and Twitter are considered native and that just bolsters my opinion. Facebook and Twitter and single use ad placements, meaning what you do with them only works with them. You can generate reach their, but ti be a successful brand you have to reach your consumer in other ways, not just on Twitter or Facebook. Plus, lets be honest, not everyone is on Twitter and Facebook. Younger audience do not use Facebook and more aged audiences do not use Twitter.

    Now using these platforms as a component of your mix is smart, and i state that in the article They are just not the only place to run your marketing.

    That being said - i love a good debate and i REALLY appreciate you all bringing your points of view to me. It helps me to se other sides of the discussion. Thank you!!

  9. Arlo Laitin from Cardlytics, Inc, December 6, 2012 at 1:36 p.m.

    Cory, I don't think anyone is arguing that 100% of a marketers budget should go towards native placements. Frankly, that's a straw man. I think the point is that a growing portion of dollars will continue to shift to unique platforms that provide better consumer engagement than highly "optimized" 728X90's and 300X250's

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