Three Reasons Why Native Advertising Won't Scale For RTB

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 27, 2014
By now you’ve probably heard the hype: Native is going programmatic. New companies that promise to bring all the efficiency of RTB to native units seem to be sprouting up every day.

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.

3 comments about "Three Reasons Why Native Advertising Won't Scale For RTB ".
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  1. David Stevenson from OpenX, February 28, 2014 at 7:32 p.m.

    Perhaps in the interim RTB Native will have difficulty at scale in traditional display but a mobile first strategy will certainly work at scale.

    "By definition, native formats are not ads" - An app environment such as IconApps, Flipboard, or Facebook's "paper" application. The Native content currently their blends seamlessly into the user experience, and while they do have a standardized format based on that unique publisher this is a substantially smaller variance in design templates than in standard display.

    "Native needs to provide utility" - Native ads for downloading apps currently placed within Facebook's mobile news feed are some of the highest performing CPA campaigns. This is one of many examples that demonstrate quality user value for App based Native.

    "Brands want to keep control" - With proper white/blacklists and brand filters in place serving mobile Native ads through an exchange will allow complete control of brand safety. The rise of true Programmatic Private Market places will only make it easier for App Publishers to control their relationships with their Native buyers.

    As Programmatic Private Market places become more sophisticated it will offer part of the solution to addressing the Native format problem for standard display.

  2. Mike Goldberg from TripleLift, March 3, 2014 at 4:59 p.m.

    You're absolutely right – it would be a challenge to scale text-based content. With its unique voice, most articles would not be appropriate or native across many sites, while a piece of visual content that can seamlessly fit the look and feel of the site its on, can actually scale. So while it's difficult to take a Buzzfeed sponsored post and put it on, say Forbes, you can take something like a brand's signature recipe, use the best image of the finished product, and have that live natively on virtually all food and cooking sites.

  3. James Keyes from RTB International, March 6, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.

    Up until now RTB was for Fortune 500 businesses with a huge advertising budget. The technology, the contracts with the data aggregate partners, and the scale were out of reach of the small business. With Moore's law as computing power continues to double every 2.5 years on the average, more is available for the small business to compete like a Fortune 500 business. For example, the Ooma telephone system can make a one guy blogging in his pajamas in his parents basement look and feel and sound like a big business to a caller.

    If you are interested in using RTB technology for your small business, go to to learn more and register for a webinar or contact me directly.

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