Native as an adjective, rather than a noun, tells the story of the surrounding content and inspires us to emulate a higher level of engagement, per Levien.
Several factors have led the industry into what Levien calls the future of native advertising, or "native next," pointing to Google's launch of cost-per-click pricing in AdWords that produced a surge in efficiency. Today, as much as two-thirds of digital advertising is bought and sold through search or performance-based metrics. The other factor -- adjacency -- pertains to banner advertising, which is intended to complement the copy on the page. Most of what marketers expect from digital advertising began with efficiency and adjacency. It's what marketers expect from direct marketing, but it's only part of the story.
Levien describes three forces -- mobile, social and a need for a better business model -- driving native advertising. Brands on social were native from the start, and the disruption in the shift from desktop to mobile still happens faster than any other. She said the ad revenue model for native aligns better with the way consumers view advertising.
Where does the industry go from here? The New York Times focuses on five operating principles based on the way the media company thinks about "native next." It's not about branded content masquerading as editorial content, but rather becoming more transparent and gaining engagement on the metrics of that content. It's about a new way of thinking about an old topic. The New York Times, for example, tells the stories on print and online through graphics and interactive content. Levien points to stories The New York Times conveyed about the changes Major Bloomberg accomplished during his time in office as Native Next.
Reach -- once something bought in the world of radio and television advertising -- has transitioned into advertising bought and earned in digital, Levien said. "The brand is really the subplot and the opportunity in native is to find the main plot," she said. "It's not about the brand, but the brand finding the story most interesting. It might sound obvious, but it's pretty hard work."
How a marketer tells the story matters as much as the story itself, she said.