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.