After much discussion, the official native types were concluded to be: in-feed, paid search, recommendation widgets, promoted listings, IAB standard (with native elements), and “other.” By and large, this list is actually a well-considered and thoughtful compilation. It helpfully separates verticals of vendors and offerings. There are, however, a few noteworthy issues with the IAB definitions. If the IAB implements the following recommended changes, we think the list can be more helpful for marketers across the ecosystem.
Stifling the Innovation of Native
Our primary concern with the IAB categorization is its implication that native ought to fit within one of five predefined types, or else be cast into the miscellaneous bucket of “other.” The reality is that the vast majority of native dollars are spent on this last category (Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, etc.). The virtue of native is precisely that it is an ongoing evolution of innovative ways to advertise, not a fixed standard. The IAB’s list creates a harmful presumption that the five “non-other” items represent the totality of native advertising. There is a possibility that the IAB list will stifle innovation by misleading marketers and directing them to “known” types. This concern could be solved perhaps by a rebrand of “other” to “innovative” -- or the statement that is not an exhaustive list of the types of native ads, but merely an introductory guide to a few formats.
Branding v Direct Response
Different types of native advertising have completely different characteristics. Content recommendation widgets focus on traffic generation to publisher content, paid listings excel for direct response, and in-feed are a middle ground between branding and direct response, depending on the nature of the advertisement, publisher and placement. The IAB is, in effect, telling marketers that they can advertise on radio or Google, without providing much context about why and when they would choose one or the other.
On-site v Off-site
Regardless of whether the native unit is in-feed or a recommendation widget, the decision of how a marketer would use native advertising is affected more by where the unit clicks. In-feed can either click to a piece hosted on that publisher’s site -- or to an advertiser’s landing page. To many, this distinction is more important than whether the content is in the feed or a widget at the bottom. This distinction is essential to the very nature of the campaign, the measurability of its impact, the type of assets required, and more.
Display as Native
Our most significant concern with the IAB’s list is that it counts display advertising as native. Of all the things that are and are not native, no rational market participant believes that banner ads are native ads -- no matter the “native elements” that may be present in the banner.
Including banners as native will produce two possible results: either the integrity of the IAB list is undermined, or industry members will believe that banners are actually native. The former is unfortunate because all the value of having a native guide is lost. The latter is even worse, because marketers may experiment with display as native, find display-level performance, and give up on the native ecosystem. The simple solution here is to simply drop display from the list of native advertising types.