The Many Sides of the Native Advertising Coin

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ADOTAS — One thing is clear – and very exciting – and that is there is significant momentum around the category of “native advertising.” Before you second-guess the term, take a moment and ask yourself this question, “When was the last time you got excited about digital advertising?” More than likely, you can’t even remember!

Native advertising, whether you’re close to it as I am, or not, is receiving a lot of attention in the digital media industry. Since its emergence into the mainstream last year, the category has been met with curiosity and, increasingly, excitement. There have been some pitfalls in the space, namely the blurring of lines between editorial content and ads camouflaged as content, which in only half the native ad equation. However, and, most importantly, native advertising is reshaping the thinking and delivery of advertising by putting a greater emphasis on the user experience. Questions around page views, whether ads are seen or not, among others, no longer are part of the conversation. The great news is for the first time, as far as I can recall, there are exciting developments beyond the boxes digital advertising has been caged in for far too long.

With native advertising, it is important to note, first and foremost, that it isn’t about inventing something completely new. The term, much like online video advertising, behavioral targeting and paid search, to name a few, before it, is about creating an identity for the category.

Here are a few things to help you identify with the many sides of the native advertising coin and the opportunity it presents to your digital marketing efforts:

  1. Clean Slate: When the Internet began, there wasn’t advertising. It was all about the user experience. Twenty years ago this year, the first banner ad made its way onto the web. It quickly multiplied to the point of far too many ads and after an outcry from the people. Publishers retreated to basically what the web advertising experience is today. Native advertising provides publishers and advertisers a way to create net, new inventory that unlike an avalanche of ads around the content is integrated into the experience, whether content as ads or big, beautiful advertising. Today, with the advent of a new, connected web, we have a clean slate again to rethink the delivery and reception of advertising.
  2. Breaking Free of Standard: Unlike standard ad formats, native advertising equals premium and quality. Twitter’s Promoted Tweets are an excellent example. There’s nothing standard about Promoted Tweets. They’re native to the user experience delivering a non-standard ad unit that, most importantly, has timing and context as a priority — two very important traits to native advertising and the industry’s goal to make advertising better.
  3. Display, Not Social: While there are social actions to be driven in native advertising, the category isn’t about social dollars. Native advertising is about improving the display space, which is badly in need of innovation. This is a big goal and it should be a welcome opportunity as outside of paid search, the majority of digital ad dollars are spent in display. What is tremendously exciting is the number of companies, including BuzzFeed, Tumblr, Foursquare, Sharethrough, Forbes, AOL, The New York Times Company, not to mention Twitter and Facebook, to name a few, thinking big as it relates to native advertising, whether content as ads or pure-play ads. Oh, and by-the-way, according to BIA/Kelsey, the native ad opportunity is expected to grow from more than $1.5 billion last year to nearly $4 billion by 2016.
  4. Performance, Performance, Performance: While native advertising is premium and the goal of it is to reshape the display ad space, for an industry focused on metrics, and, rightfully so, here’s the exciting news: Every single native ad campaign performs better than traditional display. Way better! In the case of my company, we’re seeing performance 10X of traditional web and mobile display, and that’s just an average. Often times, performance is much, much higher and that’s true across the companies in the space mentioned earlier. Performance is defined, much like it is in traditional, by engaging, watching, viewing and interacting with an ad placement. And, with native, there aren’t problems, such as, “Was my ad viewable?” Native ads are 100 percent viewable.
  5. Solving the “When”: Unlike traditional ads placed around content based on a page loading and a cookie, native ads solve the question of “when” an ad should be delivered, as well as the “why.” The opportunity is to be part of the experience and delivered at a time and place that make sense to the user experience. In today’s world, traditional display offers efficiency and scale, which is great, but it doesn’t solve the “when,” like native does.
  6. Coin Flip: There are two primary sides to the coin as it relates to native advertising: 1.) Content as ads and 2.) Ads as ads. Both are delivered at the right time based on the experience and, most importantly, in context. This is an extremely important part of the equation. Without proper timing and context, we’re back to interruption.
  7. Out of the Box(es): What is exciting as it relates to native, is advertising that is large, bolder, more impactful and creative. It brings creative into the digital mix for, arguably, the first time and gets back to advertising’s roots of sight, sound and motion — storytelling! Native advertising supports what the creative side of advertising wants to create and communicate to its audiences. For far too long, advertising on the web has been constrained due to the boxes it has been limited. Now, the creative side of advertising, thanks to native ad formats, is finally meeting the Internet, both on web and mobile.
  8. Robots vs. People: There have been tremendous advancements in media buying thanks to technology. A vast majority of digital advertising today is scientific and robotic . But native doesn’t fall into machines. It is a new game in town and it takes thoughtful planning and creative. It also costs more and should. Don’t get me wrong, I love machines, I love scale, I love efficiency and I even love standards, but people, those we’re trying to reach, don’t like robotic advertising, but they do like native, as proved by the performance. Through native, we need to teach ourselves and build-out platforms to support this new ecosystem and, from there, we’ll teach the machines.

The native advertising category, while emerging, is here to stay. It’s taking many shapes and sizes (not simply boxes) that have one thing in common, unlike display to this point, and that is they’re delivered as part of the Internet experience, whether on the web on a PC, tablet or smartphone. And, this is a giant step forward for the delivery and reception of advertising.

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