If this post were an online banner, 99.8% of the audience would be ignoring it.
Clickthrough rates (CTR) on traditional display advertising have long been dropping like a stone (going from 9% in 2000 to now south of 0.2%) and more than ever it’s forcing advertisers to explore alternatives to effectively reach and engage consumers.
Enter native advertising.
For the uninitiated, native advertising is content that is generally made in consort with the media and is delivered on the publisher’s site or media property. The ad format is designed to take on the look and feel of the environment in which it is served and to seamlessly blend into the flow of the user experience. The only clue that it’s paid is some indication that the content is “sponsored” by the advertiser. You see it used to great effect on sites like BuzzFeed, Mashable, Tumblr, Gawker, Slate and many others. On Twitter, they’re Promoted Tweets. On Facebook, they’re News Feed ads. On Pandora, they might be a branded playlist.
Key to this native approach is developing content that is relevant to the user and that they find interesting and compelling enough to want to read or view, regardless if it’s from a sponsor or the editorial team of the channel.
This blurring of advertising and editorial has totally disrupted the old “separation of church and state” position long held by the media. Signs that the impact of native advertising are toppling the old guard include the recent news from Condé Nast that they are creating a group called 23 Stories specifically to help brands develop native content, and Time Inc. announcing that they were creating a native group that would work across all 25 of their titles including such bastions of travel as Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine.
So why the rush to native?
An IPG/Sharethrough study that included a “premium travel brand” found that consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads. Native ads also registered an 18% higher lift in purchase intent and a 9% lift in brand affinity over banner ads. Plus, 32% of respondents said they’d share a native ad with someone, compared to just 19% who said they’d share a display ad.
Google has reported that viewers of native ads are 3.6 times more likely to perform a branded search than viewers of traditional display ads and viewers of native ads are six times more likely to do a related search.
Just as importantly, native ads really resonate with the audience everyone in travel seems to most covet — Millennials. Perhaps not surprising given their proclivity to devour online content and their desire to make their own choices in what they consume. This is an age group that prefers the softer approach and opt-in nature of native versus the hard sell of display advertising and push marketing, and it translates into 46% of Millennials who noticed branded content saying they consumed the content, with one-third of them sharing the branded content.
Despite its many virtues, native advertising isn’t all perfection or without challenges. The lack of a strong or direct call to action means success needs to be viewed in terms that aren’t about immediate bookings and an easily assessed ROI. The strong engagement of native also translates into premium pricing and the custom nature of building the content. And getting it right requires a greater investment in time and resources, both of which have a cost.
With its significant push and investment into content creation, it’s not surprising that Marriott should be among the travel brands out front in this rush to native advertising. Last year, they partnered with Wired, Fast Company and Mashable to feature a variety of “sponsored” stories that presented different points of view on the future of travel and innovative ways to enrich and shape the next generation of hotel experiences — all of which supported the brand’s overarching “travel brilliantly” campaign. More recently, they’ve partnered with the website Medium to launch a new travel vertical called Gone whose content is sponsored by Marriott. The stories aren’t about Marriott per se, but they align neatly to places that Marriott has an interest, like Haiti where they are soon launching a new property.
By speaking to your audience in ways that they find entertaining, informative and meaningful, there is clearly an opportunity to use native advertising to boost brand awareness and create an engaging and positive interaction with your brand.
In a world where it’s getting harder to be noticed, native advertising represents an important intersection between audience, content and brand, providing a mechanism for telling your story in ways that better align with how people discover and consume information today.
Going native. It’s something every travel brand needs to consider.