The Digital Landscape of Native Advertising

Michael Mothner, Founder & CEO, Wpromote
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Michael Mothner, Founder & CEO, Wpromote

The history of native advertising is older and more storied than you might expect even if you’re already familiar with it. The reason why is related to how it works: native advertising is advertising that appears to be native content within the channel it’s appearing on. These days, it’s a sponsored Buzzfeed article, or an ad for chicken stock on a recipe site. It’s paid content that looks like organic content, and tries to be useful or relevant to the audience in some way.

Native advertising goes all the way back to the start of sponsored radio programs in the 1920s. These popular radio shows had corporate sponsors, but were designed to sound just like the other popular radio programs of the era. This trend continued through branded soap operas in the 30s, sponsored publications in the 60s, and informercials in the 80s. All of this content was designed to look like the “normal” content you might otherwise get through these mediums or channels - they just carried with them a business or corporate sponsorship. Today, we have native ads in the form of search-based ads on search engine results pages, branded content on sites like Buzzfeed and Mashable, and more.

  ​Native advertising is the new best way to reach your audiences, engage them, and make sure your advertising is worth their time and their click  

Product placement was actually one of the most popular and enduring forms of native advertising, appearing in radio shows, television programs, and movies throughout the decades. Maybe one of the most famous examples is the use of Reese’s Pieces in E.T., which led to Reese’s Pieces sales rocketing up 66 percent after the movie’s release.

Today, there’s much more freedom in digital marketing to place native advertising anywhere you can think of. The six main native advertising types are:

• In-Feed
• Paid Search
• Recommendation Widgets
• Promoted Listings
• In-Ad With Native Elements
• Custom

In-feed is pretty straightforward: picture your Facebook feed with a promoted post in it from a fashion or technology brand you’re familiar with. It appears along with regular organic content and looks organic, but will indicate that it’s sponsored with a marker or a statement saying “Sponsored Content.” Paid search is the paid search we know and love: ads that appear at the top and bottom of search engine results pages, tailored to your search and often seeming similar to organic results.

Recommendation widgets will likely be familiar from sites like CNN or Mashable, showing you groups of articles on the side of or at the bottom of the article you’re reading that will lead you out to other places on the web. Promoted listings appear on sites like Yelp and Amazon, triggering when you conduct a search and serving you sponsored results that have paid to appear at the top. They’re usually, if not always, related to your search. In-ad with native elements sounds complicated, but is actually pretty simple. The example given above of a chicken stock ad on a recipe site is a perfect example: the ad itself isn’t native content, but it appears in a native context that makes it relevant to the reader. Lastly, custom can look like almost anything, from Spotify offers to Pandora messages.

So now you know the history of native advertising and what it looks like today. But what is it really that makes native advertising so crucial to today’s advertising campaigns? To answer that, you only need look at the numbers.

People view native ads 53 percent more frequently than traditional ads. Native advertising can increase brand lift by as much as a whopping 82 percent. Even purchase intent is 53 percent higher when consumers click on native ads instead of traditional ads. And if all that doesn’t tell you enough, the native advertising industry will reach $4.6 billion in revenue in 2017. Advertisers are sinking their dollars into native advertising in record numbers-all for good reason. Native advertising is the new best way to reach your audiences, engage them, and make sure your advertising is worth their time and their click.

The future of digital advertising is to embrace native. Make your content valuable in an organic way, and not only will you get more clicks and more sales, you’ll increase brand loyalty as audiences see you’re providing them with worthwhile content.

It saves you money, too. Rather than creating ads with the broadest possible appeal for the broadest possible audience and, for instance, hoping you get a bite on your ad for hairbrushes when the ad network you’ve used serves that ad on an automotive website, you can appeal in a narrower context that is much more likely to get conversions. A fun article about hairstyle changes in the last 25 years, sponsored by your hairbrush company, is not only likelier to get clicks, but qualified clicks will be higher, too. That is, since the audience reading your article is already interested in reading about hairstyles, they’re probably already thinking about hair products and are thus likelier to be interested in yours.

The two most important parts to remember about native advertising are: make sure it’s clear that your ad is an ad, and don’t talk your product or service up too much. If you try and masquerade your sponsored content as actual organic content, you could get slammed by the FTC, which has strict guidelines for outlining what content is and is not paid. Plus, consumers won’t appreciate your attempts to dupe them. Secondly, your content should have merit outside of just your product. Think back to the example of the hairbrush ad on the automotive site; you wouldn’t expect auto enthusiasts to necessarily find an ad about a hairbrush useful. By the same token, make sure your content is useful to the reader without self-promoting too hard. You want to seem genuine, not pushy, and authenticity is key in creating successful native advertising.

Native advertising can help you become a market leader in your category. Native helps you gain credibility, can easily set you apart, and make your brand the first name on everyone’s lips. Just use it wisely and you’re all set for success!

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