Still, if it's surprising that two very different approaches to online advertising have taken off at the same time, what might be even more surprising is that native and programmatic now seem to be on something of a collision course. A small but growing number of startups are now trying to bring the efficiency and scale of programmatic to the world of native advertising.
The question of the moment is whether native and programmatic can truly come together as one. On one side of the debate are the enthusiastic ad tech founders, who are touting their ability to combine programmatic and native. On the other side are the purists who see native as diametrically opposed to programmatic. As Andrew Gorenstein, chief revenue officer at Gawker Media, explained to Mullen, “A piece of content that is native to Gawker, by definition, cannot be native to another site, even if it has a similar audience or editorial content."
It's hard to argue with Gorenstein's point if you abide by his strict definition of native advertising. But many people in the industry have a much broader definition of native advertising. In this broader view, native advertising can also come in the form of ad units that mimic the headlines, subheads, and photo icons of a publisher's site. This approach to native essentially takes the traditional display ad and makes it look more like an engaging piece of content.
As you can see, as long as we accept this somewhat more nuanced definition of native, there's no reason why the power of programmatic can't be combined with it. Because so many publishers use similar templates and similar headline/photo formats, it's now possible to create units that scale while still maintaining the look and feel of publisher sites. At the very least, these “native" units are much more integrated into a site than the traditional banner ad.
It's this more nuanced definition of native that startups like AdsNative and TripleLift are referring to when they promise to combine programmatic and native. It's also this broader definition that makes it possible to think of Facebook ads and sponsored Tweets as native advertising. As long as there are clearly defined criteria for the ad units -- headline length, image size, etc. -- there's no reason why you can't buy and sell them in a marketplace. And if you're going to create such an exchange, it only makes sense to make it a fully programmatic exchange that targets readers in real time based on their online behavior.
So, strange though it might sound, native and programmatic advertising really are coming together to form a new kind of advertising: programmatic native. And while it might not meet the strictest definition of native advertising, that's ultimately a semantic issue. These engaging new ad units can take programmatic in a new direction. That's an exciting development for online advertising no matter what you call it.