By Pippa Nutt, Chief Digital Officer
So What is Native Advertising Anyway?
In its simplest form, Native Advertising consists of paid ads that appear to blend in naturally with surrounding content. Where a display ad stands out as being an ad (for the most part), native ads are a little less in-your-face. This is also what makes native ads prone to controversy, as they blur the lines between editorial and advertising.
An Example of How Native Ads Blend in Seamlessly with Surrounding Editorial Content
Interestingly, although the term ‘Native’ is a fairly recent buzzword, this type of advertising is far from new. Google’s first iteration of paid search ads were actually considered native because they blended into the search results page. And those sponsored stories and posts that have Facebook Millennials up in arms? Native. At its core, native is really just a subset of content marketing, but with a hip new agency rebrand.
Wait, who drank all the Koolaid?
The reality is that the lines are blurring – but it’s not all bad, in our opinion. In fact, some of it works incredibly effectively for direct response.
Native Advertising Growth
Despite only accounting for a small percentage of the overall digital mix, native advertising is on the rise. According to a recent ANA – Research Survey, 58% of all members surveyed said their company has engaged in native advertising during the past year. Additionally, both B-to-C and B-to-B marketers expect to see a significant increase in their native advertising budgets over the next year.
Why Native is a Direct Response Powerhouse
Simply put, native ads work. And in direct response, it’s all about the metrics – show me the data! If you have ever seen or read about David Ogilvy’s “Guiness Guide to Oysters”, you know about the power of the advertorial concept. Native ads are really a less intrusive extension of that same concept; they work because they are engaging and relevant, and audiences respond to that. Plus, unlike traditional display, native ads have the potential to move beyond the click, to shareable content that helps your budget stretch that much further.
Native ads break through traditional banner ad clutter. They work because content is more readily viewed than a traditional banner ad, which in turn drives a higher click-through rate and more conversions on the backend. What’s even more compelling (in our experience) is that native ads can deliver efficiencies that rival paid search.
No one likes to admit that advertising works on them, but a billion-dollar industry is clearly doing something right!
How to Approach Native
Make sure your ads are relevant, speak naturally to your audience, and are customized to the platform. For example, Facebook Sponsored Stories require a very different approach than Yahoo In-Stream Ads. Facebook ads benefit from more of a one-on-one approach, while a Yahoo in-stream ad might be more successful if it’s crafted to look more like a news article. The main idea marketers need to wrap their heads around when it comes to native advertising is placement, placement and placement. For instance, if a client is advertising a mortgage product on Yahoo Finance, a headline such as “Learn more about how you could save thousands of dollars on your mortgage” would make sense. However, that same headline will not translate well within Facebook. A headline along the lines of “The Smith family was able to save thousands of dollars in their mortgage” would be more suitable. Understanding who you are speaking to – and where – is key.
Examples of Native Ad Integration on Social Media
Our advice is to start small and test the waters in an environment you are most comfortable with. If you are comfortable interacting with your audience on Facebook, test a few newsfeed ads or sponsored posts that leverage the same tone and manner of communicating. See what drives a higher click-through rate; from there, expand to new audiences that share similar characteristics.
Remember, native ads are packaged as a softer sell. The key to making them less intrusive is to ensure they fit in naturally with the surrounding environment and benefit the user experience. This brings us to the question which keeps marketers up at night: the disclosure and transparency concerns surrounding native advertising.
Disclosure and Transparency
Two key issues advertisers believe are essential to native advertising are disclosure and transparency, and most believe disclosure is a shared responsibility between publishers and advertisers. What’s more important, according to a new report by the Association of Online Publishers, is that 59% of consumers actually find native advertising interesting and informative, which means native ads are here to stay. According to Lynne Springett, Insight Director at Time Inc. UK, “To get it right, publishers need to be transparent and make it clear who is bringing consumers this content. The audience tends not to mind that it is paid-for as long as publishers are clear about it and make sure it is interesting and engaging, and not just about the advertiser’s own product. As Howard Gossage said, ‘People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.’”
Native advertising has shown great potential to date, and offers a unique opportunity to stand out from a crowded banner landscape. What to watch for in the latter half of 2015? How native will scale. Without a doubt, native can deliver efficiencies that boost your overall marketing mix. However, achieving adequate volume is still a core challenge, and that is the key to the long-term growth of this digital medium.