Why A Column About Native Advertising?

Native advertising is for real. It has increasingly become a focal point of our industry over the past three years, and now represents billions of dollars in media spend.  Given native’s growing prominence, MediaPost has dedicated a column entirely to the subject, with the intention of presenting a centralized forum for a diverse set of respected industry voices.  

While many still debate what constitutes a native advertising campaign, the basic definition is generally agreed upon: it’s advertising that follows the format, style, and voice of the platform on which it appears.  Essentially, native advertising should be an ad that is naturally part of the user experience, without being intrusive, and it should offer the customer some sort of value. It can be content, long-form or short-form in nature, images, or sponsored posts on social media.

While the industry may argue about further nuances of the definition -- and possibly hundreds of articles have been written on this subject -- this debate serves mostly as a distraction. The complexity arises because, by virtue of its very nature, native is idiosyncratic. Thus it is inevitable that different publishers, technology providers and exchanges will develop offerings that embrace various ways to best implement native for their particular goals. This should be a celebrated aspect of the category, as it provides a diversity of approaches that allows industry participants to find their optimal implementations. The lack of complete standardization around what exactly native is will allow for highly innovative solutions – so the longer the industry resists uniformity, the better.

It’s frequently mentioned that native advertising is not new. So why have the past three years moved the industry from niche player to having its own MediaPost column? Consumer engagement with banner ads has declined markedly -- a natural result of banner blindness -- resulting in a lower CPM paid to publishers (which, in turn, has led to a huge uptick in fraud). This naturally declining CPM was accelerated by the rise of programmatic, which allowed advertisers to cherry-pick only their chosen impressions.

To stay in business, publishers had two choices: interruptive or integrative media. Interruptive media, such as full-screen takeovers and interstitials, is a natural evolution of display advertising, with flashing, blinking ads that are out of place on a website and either compete with or obscure content.

Integrative media – represented most commonly as native advertising – is the antithesis of interruptive media.  It’s advertising that presents some value to the users, and engages its users with content – not relying on flashing and blinking to drive attention.

Declining user engagement with banner ads has been compounded by the dramatic shift to mobile. Banners simply have no place on the small screen. And native renders best in the content streams people tend to access on smartphones and tablets.

These three factors -- declining engagement, programmatic pricing pressure, and a drive to mobile -- led publishers to seriously begin considering viable alternatives to banners. Given the interruptive and integrative tradeoffs discussed above, along with the success Facebook was able to prove with its homegrown implementation, native has emerged as a powerful force in digital advertising.

It thus stands to reason that native will likely be included among the likes of mobile and video as the foundations of growth in the digital advertising landscape, especially as native and mobile growth prove increasingly synergistic.  

There’s also great promise in the area of native programmatic.  While still in its infancy, the technology is emerging to facilitate scalable, digital, native advertising in the future.  

We look forward to engaging the community in an active, ongoing discussion about native, so please add any questions or thoughts in the comments for us to address in subsequent articles.

3 comments about "Why A Column About Native Advertising?".
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  1. Kevin Orbit from Orbit Creative Media, October 16, 2014 at 11:57 a.m.

    Native Advertising is Content marketing. You are producing meaningful content that provides a real value of information or entertainment to create engagements. Brands sponsor and/or integrate into the content. In a way this is what brands did in early radio and when television first started. There was one or maybe tandem "sponsors" not multiple "advertisers" and they often also "produced" the shows which were the content of early television. The Texaco Star Theatre is one example. The brand name was in the show title and their employees were integrated into the show. Then television transitioned into simply selling ad spots in their shows to multiple advertisers. Ratings were the indicator of how many people were watching the show not the ads. The engagement strategy for TV was for the content with "plot points" just before the commercial breaks so the audience wouldn't change channels. Then as the clutter of ads in content grew it diluted the impact of these spots and new technology like DVR's created commercial skipping. So now with Internet and mobile and all of the creative and strategic opportunities its time again for sponsors to produce their own branded content not just buy interruptive ad spots in someone else's content.

  2. Matt Cooper from Addroid, October 16, 2014 at 2:19 p.m.

    I always love how CEO's of Native ad companies (the author is the CEO of TripleLift: a Native ad platform) say things like, "Banners simply have no place on the small screen." Really? You're just gonna throw that out there because it's not like today, this exact moment, we aren't running billions and billions of 320x50s on phones all over the world. You're saying then that a 320x480 MRAID interstitial wasn't trafficked today, and if it was, it wouldn't be effective anyway because it has no place on a phone? This is the implication?

    The proponents of Native platforms are obsessed with the idea that success for Native can only be defined as a winner-take-all situation. Banners must die and Native has to replace it because... well... they sell Native ads so that would be better. They've been beating this drum since they first started raising seed rounds for their companies a few years ago.

    I like Native. Sure. It can play a part in any media plan and compliment the other placements. However, I look forward to the day when the "Natives" don't feel compelled to throw Display under the bus to support their value proposition. It just seems so insecure to me.

  3. Jaci Smith from APG Media of Southern Minnesota, October 16, 2014 at 9:47 p.m.

    Matt Cooper, I'm the native advertising coordinator at our publishing company in southern Minnesota. While I'm not going to argue with some of the assertions Berry makes about banner ads (too many stats to that effect to ignore), I will say that at the hyperlocal level, we've had great success selling bundles that include traditional banner ads, print (gasp!) ads and native. I am a 2014 Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow charged with exploring how native can work for small publishing companies and I'm blogging about my efforts here if anyone wants to join the conversation. The more voices, the better:

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