Premium Native Vs. Programmatic Native: Which Offers More Engagment?

Polar came out with a report recently on premium native benchmarks. The report emphasized that the way in which native ads are created, placed and promoted on a publisher’s Web site can go a long way in determining their performance. Polar, by the way, has a tech platform that premium publishers use to boost reach and engagement with their direct-sold content programs.

Kunal Gupta, Polar’s founder and CEO, argues that there’s a lot of confusion about native advertising. He works with publishers and media companies and emphatically states that his company has nothing to do with ad tech. Publishers license Polar’s technology to distribute their content and achieve reach. 

The native content Polar is dealing with is usually created by publishers themselves. “Premium publishers won’t accept content that they didn’t write and place on their own site,” he says. This distinguishes Polar from companies like Nativo and Sharehrough: “Our dataset is exclusive to premium publishers of branded content programs.”

Gupta says the 18 billion impressions on Polar’s platform are direct-sold--which, in his mind, makes them a very different thing from programmatic native.

Gupta sees the market evolving in a bifurcated way:premium native vs. programmatic native.  He sees premium native as branded content and maintains that programmatic native is much closer to display advertising. While there’s a lot of excitement around programmatic native from the ad tech community, Gupta takes the contrarian view that native is premium content created by publishers -- and publishers alone. That’s in contrast to programmatic native, which is created by advertisers.

Gupta’s purist view is that premium native is focused on quality content and engagement, while programmatic native is focused on getting an audience at the lowest possible price. Further, “Publishers are starting to see that programmatic native is different than programmatic display,” Gupta says. “They’ve seen how programmatic display has eroded the value of their premium display business.”

Gupta says that while some premium publishers work with Outbrain and Taboola, they’re rethinking working with these partners because of a poor user experience and click bait. In addition, he says that programmatic native doesn’t offer a way to optimize for engagement. Gupta argues that if you’re a marketer and you buy ads on Outbrain and Sharethrough, you don’t know where those ads are going to run.

This year, Gupta projects that the business model for premium native will evolve so that publishers that are selling branded content programs are selling direct to clients or an agency, hosting the content and running native ads to drive  traffic to it. Going forward, success metrics will not be click-through rates, but instead page views, audience engagement, and the post-click experience: that is, what happens after the reader engages with the article or video.

The cost per page view is the current business model for branded content. The risk of programmatic native is that it's a “race to the bottom," which Gupta disavows.

Gupta argues that fraud is such an issue in the industry now because marketers don’t know where and who the audience is. “What is the quality of the audience?” he asks. He makes the bold statement that premium native content is immune to fraud. Can this be so?

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