It’s a nice idea. As someone who loves seeing digital campaigns grow more efficient by using as much data as possible, I’m glad that people are experimenting with native campaigns at scale. There’s only one problem: The whole concept doesn't make much sense.
Why not? Let’s have a look at three key reasons:
By definition, native formats are not ads. By definition, a native format is not actually an “ad” in the traditional sense of the word, but a piece of content that is usually designed to inform or entertain. Native formats are hand-crafted experiences that are produced for one specific publication. A piece of content that is native to Gawker cannot be native to another site. In other words, to be completely native, you must match the user experience of each individual publisher. This doesn’t mean that the new companies promising native at scale can’t offer a new type of ad unit at scale. They're already offering these units. But, by definition, these units are not “native.”
Native needs to provide utility. But let’s say you disagree with all the above, as some people apparently do. (You know it's a major challenge to define "native" when the IAB sets up a task force for the job.) There’s still the utility problem. By any sensible definition, a native unit should enhance the user experience. An ad that’s contextual and looks like the content around it, such as Facebook’s right-rail units, doesn’t meet the native standard because it offers nothing more to the user than any other ad. A true native campaign doesn’t disrupt the user experience in any way. Intel’s campaign with Vice is a great example.
Brands want to keep control. Let's face it: A great native experience is tough to create. It requires a strong partnership between the publisher and the brand. This involves significant consumer research, a highly customized creative, and a focus on optimization. The brand always wants to remain in control and to know where the native units will appear. This is almost the opposite of how brands approach RTB ads. The more automated the process, the less control for the advertiser, and the less such ads can plausibly be considered native.
To be clear, this is a complicated issue, and there's room for disagreement. But it's more than merely a semantic issue. Native is a hot space right now because brands are discovering that when you create great content that has the look and feel of a publisher's site, you can connect with users in powerful new ways. If native gets lumped with all other automated ads, brands will become confused -- and an exciting trend will die out just as it's gaining momentum.