In a post on his Reuters blog, Felix Salmon says that “a native ad is something that consumers read, interact with, even share — it fills up their attention space, for a certain period of time, in a way that banner ads never do… Native advertising (as well as content marketing, insofar as there’s a distinction) is a way of communicating with web readers in a language they’re receptive to.”
I believe the defining characteristics of native are non-dispruptive, hyper-relevant, and user-activated. And of course, native ads must contain content that is original and incredibly relevant to the page on which it appears — and relevant to the user, even more importantly. I understand that many will disagree, stating that native is about “in-stream” and “unique to the platform.” I don’t think those are necessarily hallmarks of native. I recall a certain Church of Scientology ad that met both those criteria, but failed horribly in its effort to be either relevant or non-disruptive.
Publishers are offering custom native placements to their top advertisers in ways that are high-impact and designed to drive response. While these placements are unique and do a fantastic job of highlighting advertiser content, they’re not scalable and (as highlighted above) not always relevant. And, frankly, I think they’re often a waste of resources. How many designers and developers does it require to build a custom native placement for a major consumer brand? How much must it cost for that brand to reach the limited audience of that one single publisher?
My point here is that making the page native, rather than the ad, is completely backward thinking! Sponsored content as native is a beautiful thing; designing and building full pages to host advertorial content is counterintuitive in an industry that’s soaring toward automation. For publishers, I understand that these custom placements are often the bread and butter on the revenue plate, but surely there’s an awful lot of overhead involved from month to month. And advertisers, isn’t this a tremendous investment to reach a single audience? Wouldn’t it be a better investment to market content in a way that scales to reach more consumers?
There’s a much easier way to creative native advertising: Nativize the ad, not the page.
Between HTML5 and the newest IAB standard units, it’s simple enough to create an ad that contains custom content. That content can even be dynamically generated, ensuring that it’s completely relevant to the content of the page around it and better targeted to user intent. So the video showing off your company’s newest tennis gear can appear in a rich media ad unit alongside the U.S. Open recap. Or the consumer-generated raves about your 2014 model year sports car might appear alongside editorial content about the newest muscle cars within an IAB portrait ad on a Conde Nast site.
These native ad units can run on any publisher’s site, blending naturally into the design, complementing the existing editorial content. They won’t autoplay, expand and cover publisher content — or do anything at all, unless a user chooses to interact with them. They won’t change the page. They don’t require a site redesign — or any additional design and dev resources, for that matter — and they don’t require half the advertiser’s annual budget to produce and place.
Native has the power to be truly disruptive in our industry, engaging audiences in numbers we haven’t seen in a decade. But unless we leverage the technology we have available to make it scalable, that won’t happen. If we nativize the ad and not the page, we can make relevant, user-friendly advertising the new standard.