There are thousands of articles out there advocating for and against native advertising. Lists of benefits and challenges abound. But so do definitions. It’s time to admit that there is more than one kind of native advertising out there. In fact, there are five.
Oftentimes while brainstorming or researching, we come across articles with titles like “The Future of Native Advertising for Brands and Publishers” and “4 Ways Brands Should Use Native Advertising in 2017”. Full disclosure, we’ve written similar articles ourselves.
The official definition of native advertising (according to Google) is: “a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.”
This definition comfortably captures all of native advertising in its various forms. But complications arise when major publishers, digital marketers, and advertising technology companies talk about native from vastly different perspectives.
Major publishers define native advertising as brand-sponsored content crafted specifically for their readers. For example, the New York Times’ T Brand Studio, or that time the Atlantic promoted Scientology. One track digital marketers often believe native advertising is limited to social media. Media buyers and adtech vendors, on the other hand, focus strictly on programmatic native advertising.
As we pointed out in our last post, native advertising has a terminology problem. Each stakeholder, StackAdapt included, speaks of native advertising as if it is a single entity. Leaving readers with either a) the erroneous belief that native advertising is this one, specific thing, or b) confused, overwhelmed and distrustful of anything outside of Facebook.
There are two main methods of publishing a native ad on the internet. Programmatically (in other words, automatically) or manually. Under each distribution method there are various ad types:
Types of Programmatic Native
Search engine marketing (SEM) is one of the oldest (we use that term loosely) forms of native advertising. Anyone familiar with Google is familiar with the sponsored results at the top and right hand side of their search results. They’re considered a form of native advertising because they do happen to fit the form and function of the page. They are only marked as ads by their small yellow tags. SEM is great for location based targeting and finding users at the same moment they are searching for your product or service.
In-feed social media marketing is, of course, the most famous form of native advertising. Sponsored posts target a given audience right in their news feeds or suggested via trending topics. While social is an integral part of any marketing mix, social data is a black box and each campaign is no more intelligent than the last. We’ve written extensively on these walled gardens and their impact on the digital marketing ecosystem here.
While all native advertising on social media is considered “in-feed”, not all in-feed native advertising occurs on social platforms. Something called Real Time Bidding (RTB) allows digital marketers to use various targeting techniques to serve up relevant ads to people across a list of pre-approved websites. While the ad has the look and feel of “just another article”, it is separated from organic content by an advertising label. Once a user clicks on the ad, they are taken to the sponsored brand’s blog or landing page.
Programmatic in-feed ads are one of the only ways to scale ads across the vast reach of today’s web, and their non-disruptive nature yields click through rates up to 10x higher than that of banner ads.
4. Recommended Content
The only difference between in-feed native and recommended content is web-page placement. While in-feed ads are generally couched within a publisher’s content feed, recommended content is almost always found along the bottom of a given publisher site. Like an in-feed ad, once clicked, users are transported out of the publisher site to the blog or landing page of the brand who created the ad.
5. Publisher Produced
There is really only one form of manual native advertising, sometimes mislabeled as “branded content”. This type of advertising has its roots in the advertorials of the early and mid-20th century, when ads masqueraded as articles within a specific publication. Today, savvy consumers demand that this type of sponsored content be well labeled and most importantly, entertaining, educational, or simply, interesting.
Spread the word: native advertising is not an individual, it's a family. It's time for the marketing industry as a whole to ask the question: which format are we referring to? Which format is best for my brand?