A recent report from MediaRadar revealed that, over the course of 2014, the amount of native ads purchased by brands rose significantly. By creating advertisements that closely resemble the content that viewers hope to consume, the goal is that the ad experience will be less disruptive and result in higher engagement and conversion rates. This approach has drawn criticism from people who think that promotional material that so closely mimics published content is deceptive advertising (see John Oliver’s humorous, if slightly sensationalized, take on the practice), but digital publishers disagree, as shown by the fact that they are embracing native advertising more than ever before.
As native ads become more popular, however, the structure of what constitutes a native ad is changing. Marketers are moving away from the “advertorial” approach, which hasn’t aged well in the digital era, to a format that is more easily recognizable. While purists argue that this minimizes the creative aspect that made native advertising catch on, more practical advertisers recognize that, in the age of empowered consumers, this approach results in a quality ad that doesn’t appear to rely on deceptive practices, which is much more effective at building a trusting and loyal consumer base.
When we juxtapose this trend with the increasing popularity of programmatic advertising (automated ad buying and placement), we gain an interesting view into the future of digital advertising.
Brands are turning to programmatic advertising solutions as a way to boost efficiency. However, they also recognize that data-driven marketing is only effective when the content is engaging. Getting your ads in front of the right people won’t be nearly as successful if they think it’s just the same cookie-cutter content everyone else sees. For programmatic to have staying power, brands and marketers know they have to create a personalized and worthwhile ad experience for each unique user.
Though programmatic and native advertising were once thought to be polar opposites, this push to merge personalization with efficiency in digital marketing is bringing the two closer than ever before and opening up a whole new world of possibilities. Social media marketing is helping to blur the lines even further. Tools such as promoted tweets have brought together the custom feel of native and the real-time power of programmatic to help brands reach the right consumers effectively.
If these trends continue, and the paths of native and programmatic edge closer to merging, native advertising will break completely from having to adhere to specific, platform-related guidelines. Already we are seeing ads described as “native” that only need to be tweaked slightly in order to be used across multiple publications effectively. If this happens, we may very well see native ads that can be incorporated into ad exchanges, resulting in a programmatic/native hybrid that boasts the efficiency of data-driven marketing and the personal touch of native.
Perhaps there are those that will refuse to call this evolution true native advertising. It’s true that what we call native advertising in the future will probably not fit into our current definition of the term, but that is already happening.
Evolution in advertising happens due to scale. Digital has meant that scale is massive and arguably unlimited globally. With every new opportunity – like native ads – people start slow. When a process proves to work, the next question is, “how do we scale it”? We all remember trying to repeat whatever we did on social media when something went viral in the early days. When something became wildly popular, we would jump through hoops to figure out how to replicate, and even standardize, that success. It was hard, if not impossible, but from that desire for continued success, social media marketing companies emerged to try to manage it at scale.
So it’s no surprise that native ads are growing up. They’ve been successful in the last two years and people want to scale that success. Because of this, native ads are changing and might not even be recognizable at the end of this year. They’re already being rolled up into content marketing as a larger industry term today, and we’re seeing people push hard to scale content marketing efforts too. Programmatic brings the scale, so the convergence is a natural step.
Progress means changing as circumstances dictate, and the circumstances surrounding native advertising are changing by the day. People are much more aware of marketing efforts directed towards them and, for the most part, are accepting of the increased advertising presence in their consumed media. Because of this, digital marketers have a responsibility to treat consumers with a degree of respect by crafting advertisements that drive engagement through quality content and personalization instead of “deceptive” techniques that so many associate with advertorials. If this means abandoning the old ways in order to ensure continued success, then so be it. Nostalgia can be a powerful force, but if it comes at the cost of alienating customers, is it really worth it?
Whatever your opinion on native advertising is, one thing that I believe everyone can agree on is that the future of digital advertising—and advertising as a whole—will be fascinating to be a part of.