Native Advertising: What and How



Native advertising is one of the most popular buzzwords being tossed around the industry right now.

However, the notion “native advertising” has surrounded by a fog of abstractness and plenty of uncertainty. Is it a strategy or a tactic? Is it something truly groundbreaking or is it just advertisement in different cloak?

Native Advertising In A Nutshell

The sceptics will say that native is just a way to squeeze more money out of agencies. When there may be some truth in that, but it also comes from a shift in the dynamics of consumers, specifically millennials. Most of them hate commercial messaging. Consumers are widening the moat around themselves, and now we are finding a way to build a bridge to get to them. Native is a result of realising that if we really want to communicate with people, we need to serve them something they’re actually interested in.

There are a whole bunch of companies (especially in the finance and pharmaceutical industries) with great, valuable content that doesn’t just push their products. Publishers want that content to bring value to their readers. One seamless way to do that is with native advertising. Native can truly benefit the user, with the potential to create a much better experience than standard display ads. No one is looking to the right rail anymore, so by moving content to the center, we’re getting people to pay attention.

At the end of the day, native is still advertising, but the distinction is that we’re putting ads in a place that feels right. We’re putting round pegs in round holes, rather than trying to shove something in where it doesn’t belong.

The Relationship Between Publishers, Agencies and Brands

Brands know how to make products. Agencies know how to create campaigns. Publishers know how to create content. Brands understand value, publishers understand audience and agencies understand how to serve their brands.

Sales is the goal of an ad. Still, as a publisher you’re always going to be most interested in delighting your readers so that they continue to come back to your publication. There lies the real tension between brands and publishers when it comes to native.

People are not exactly rioting in the streets for native advertising. Yet while consumers may not love it, they certainly find it less offensive. The blowback comes when it’s not done correctly and we try to pass off one thing as another. There’s a perilous highwire you walk when you leverage a social organic footprint on one side but have to balance that with less control.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that publishers are not able to really push back when they don’t agree with the messaging. They’re lending their voice (or, in the case of VICE, their “swagger”) and must give up some control on their end as well. Ideally, publishers will know what their audience is truly interested in and only partner with brands who share those values.

Make A Better Content

Let’s think about scale on a spectrum. On one side, we have something that scales very easily like a banner ad. One the other, we have something like sponsored content that we work on hand-in-hand with a publisher so it’s as perfect as possible for the particular environment (but a bit more tenuous in terms of scale). The question we should be asking is: How do we find balance between the two sides?

Much of this comes down to what that content is worth, especially if you’re not adding much. Give some real thought about where on that spectrum you want to be. There’s a trade-off. If you want to do something that scales quite elegantly, you must understand that it can’t match what the publisher can do. In order for native to be successful, it has to be scale-able. Agencies are scratching their heads in terms of what models to use for this native programming. But that brings us to another hurdle: The idea of standardisation and native seem contradictory. Once we have true standards, it ceases to be native and instead becomes an ad unit.

You need to answer the question of how to quantify the value of native beyond just access when it comes to scale. You can move a lot of people on the internet fairly easily, but is it really valuable to a brand to have thousands of unqualified eyeballs on a piece? Tons of traffic is the best way to achieve scale, but is that the best way to achieve value? One method is to start bringing micro-publishers into the mix. Sure, big publishers may have the reach and quality content, but their voice and audience may not align. You can break through that and get your message out with these micro-publishers.

The Future of Native Advertising

Our industry experts had some big predictions for this space over the next 12 to 18 months:

  • There’s going to be some programmatic, but there’s also going to be tension because customised content can never really be programmatic and it should be resolved immediately.
  • There will be more clarity about what native actually is, along with the standards that work.
  • We’ll see more native platforms really targeting.
  • It’s also going to be more platform agnostic.
  • We’ll be moving from content to content experiences.
  • There will be more (meaning any) clarity and consistency around KPIs.
  • We won’t be using the word native at all. “It’s a bullshit term that’s not very helpful.”
  • And, finally, “We’ll probably just going to be following whatever Facebook is doing.”