Chris Childs, managing director of TabMo UK, breaks down the opportunities and challenges that exist within the native advertising space, and argues that, if properly deployed, it can help fix a number of issues plaguing the industry today.
Delivered within the natural flow of the content that is being consumed, native advertising is a paid-for video or display ad that avoids disrupting the user experience. Visually and stylistically, they blend with the overall publisher content, appearing as though they are part of it. Users decide whether or not it’s of interest; opening it is voluntary.
Once regarded as potentially deceptive because ads were regularly disguised as traditional editorial articles written by a journalist, today strict rules ensure that paid-for content is labelled as such, and native advertising is gaining significant traction. It is forecast by eMarketer to make up more than half (52.9 per cent) of all US digital display ad spending in 2017, up 36.2 per cent to reach $22.1bn (£15.9bn).
This is reinforced by research by the Native Advertising Institute at the end of 2017, which showed that 50 per cent of publishers feel native advertising is ‘very important’ to their company, up from just 35 per cent last year.
In 2015 the IAB made it possible to buy native advertising through real-time bidding (RTB) as a result of the publication of its OpenRTB 2.3 protocol. TabMo was one of the first mobile platforms to be enabled; programmatic trading means native ads are served to the right audiences, in the right context and in a brand safe environment.
Since then there has been a steady increase in the amount of native advertising available programmatically. To reflect this market, at the end of 2017, TabMo announced a partnership with in-feed native ad platform Adyoulike in a deal that helps agencies and brands to provide audiences with more personalised, highly targeted native ads on their mobiles. This followed our move to team up with TripleLift to offer high-quality mobile native inventory for brands to extend their programmatic mobile ad reach.
Benefits for publishers and advertisers
Native advertising helps to present marketing material that is of value to the consumer. It also lets brands tell a story about themselves – whether that’s a direct sell of the product or service, or the presentation of relevant and informed information that, in positioning them as knowledgeable, builds brand awareness and intent to purchase. And, while consumers are unlikely to share overtly promotional ads, they will happily send round content that is engaging and informative.
Engaged consumers mean that native advertising is effective for the advertiser. The knock-on effect is that some publishers are looking beyond the traditional modus operandi of more advertising to raise revenue and taking a ‘less is more’ approach when selling digital ad space. Annoying ad formats are removed and the number of ads readers forced to see reduced; this is particularly critical for mobile due to the smaller screen, data allowance limitations and page download speeds. The reduced clutter results in an increase in engagement and more revenue in the longterm.
Better ads improve the consumer experience
The unobtrusive format of native ads therefore greatly improves the experience for the consumer who is no longer confronted with aggressive, ‘shouty’ advertising tactics, which lessens the chances that they will vote with their feet by blocking ads altogether.
More discreet ads are also in line with the objectives of industry body, the Coalition for Better Ads, which was formed by leading international trade associations and digital media companies to improve consumers’ experience of online advertising. Its first Better Ads Standards was launched in March 2017, following extensive consumer research to define the ad experiences on desktop and mobile web that they found most objectionable.
More measurement required
Very early research undertaken in 2013 by IPG Media into the effectiveness of native advertising using eye-tracking technology produced highly favourable results (consumers looked at native ads 53 per cent more frequently than display ads, while native ads registered an 18 per cent higher lift in purchase intent and 9 per cent lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads.) More recent anecdotal evidence suggests the figures are just as positive now, if not more so.
However, one of the current shortcomings of native advertising is the lack of measurement. Because it is difficult to rate the success of an ad format that is designed to be subtle (clickthrough rates are not necessarily a true reflection of effectiveness), more research needs to be undertaken if wider adoption is expected.
Creatives need to be fine-tuned
As noted above, trying to pass off advertising as independent editorial is no-no; the user must be able to tell ads from original content or there is a risk that they will view them as spam and stop clicking.
This makes developing the right creative a finely-tuned balancing act. An ad needs to match the brand image with the publisher’s house style, while making it very clear that it is paid-for content. At the same time, the normal creative rules apply: the ad needs to work for the device on which it is viewed, with options available to serve different creatives depending on location and context.
It’s in the mix
Native programmatic offers a solution to many of the issues faced by the digital advertising sector. However, it is not a panacea and should not be considered as a complete replacement for other formats, which should be considered and included when they are the right fit. One channel might reach the right audience for example, while another focuses on serving ads in the right context.
Truly effective advertising understands each of the formats, their shortcomings and benefits, and gets them to work successfully alongside each other.