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17 February, 2014 - Source: McCann Manchester

To complete our focus on content marketing in all of its forms this month, we take a look at the rise of yet another buzzword, Native Advertising. Digital Media Account Manager Marc Crowther digs around and discovers that the principles of content marketing and social media are even starting to make inroads into that most measurable and response driven of channels, online advertising.

  • Marc Crowther Digital Media Account Manager
    Marc Crowther Digital Media Account Manager

It's the latest Buzzword across social and digital media, and that is saying something. It is being hailed as the next big thing in online display advertising- but what exactly is Native Advertising?

Native advertising has actually been around for longer than a lot of people will expect. The hype stems back to 2011 and a talk by New York City-based venture capitalist Fred Wilson, where he spoke about "the seamless integration of an aspect of a web service that is focused on generating money". However, the actual phrase "native advertising" was first used by Dan Greenberg, the CEO of Sharethrough.

In its simplest terms, Native Advertising is a method of online advertising, which looks, feels and behaves exactly like the website or page where it lives, it seamlessly blends in with its surroundings rather than obviously being an advertisement, to the extent where the user could easily not realise it is paid for. In "old money" you might say its closest relative is a really well produced advertorial in a magazine.

As such, ads will vary considerably, depending on the site it appears on in order to feel native- meaning each campaign is unique in the way it looks. Because of this, Native Ads are generally found at the heart of the content, surrounded by similar items, rather than being pushed to the side, or bottom of a page, like a standard banner ad.

Another benefit of using native ads over standard banners is that they are impactful and visible to the user. Native ads are more likely to be read, interacted with, and most importantly, shared with friends. This shows that they are more trusted by the users, which is a result of them looking like the rest of the contents on the site, making the user think it is actually part of the site rather than an ad.

With there being so many different forms of native ads, there is no common or benchmark performance levels, this will differ by site and type of ad. According to DoubleClick, the average interaction rate for standard banner ads is just 0.07%- meaning only 7 people in every ten thousand will click on it. By comparison, a site like Buzzfeed is getting interaction rates of up to 2.5% on native ads.

For native advertising to work, it must first and foremost match the form and function of the natural content it is surrounded by. The content needs to be valuable, insightful and add to the users' overall experience on the site. It should make the user want to engage with it. The opportunity within native advertising is not about finding new ways to interrupt users; it's about delivering advertising as good as the content itself.

Google AdWords, Facebook's sponsored stories and Twitter's promoted tweets are three of the more popular and widely used forms of Native Advertising. They look and feel just like a regular search result, post or tweet, and so they encourage users to interact. They are surrounded by organic search results and posts by friends and people you trust, so they blend in.

Other popular examples include BuzzFeed's sponsored posts and YouTube sponsored videos.

This concept is not actually very new at all. TV shows and films have been doing this for years through product placement. Wilson, the volleyball from Cast Away, James Bond's BMW Z3 and Marty McFly's Nike MAG's are all examples which meet the criteria of Native Advertising perfectly. They all seamlessly blended into the films in which they appeared, yet had a long lasting impact and still have an emotional attachment to many, which is more than may adverts could ever hope to achieve.

As previously mentioned, there are currently no benchmarks in terms of performance, but a study by IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough on its effectiveness found the following;

  • Consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads.

  • 25% more consumers were measured to look at in-feed native ad placements (the most common editorial native ad format) than display ad units.

  • Native ads registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads

  • 32% of respondents said the native ad "is an ad I would share with a friend of family member" versus just 19% for display ads.

  • Native ads are definitely more brand orientated than direct response. As the nature of them is to not appear like an advert, their direct sales driving ability will be very low compared to Networks and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs). However, their ability to increase visibility and affinity are extremely strong. A danger could be that the user doesn't realise who the ad is from and so there is no positive impact on the brand.

Native advertising is not just a passing fad; it is clearly here to stay. It is forcing advertisers to be smarter and is also rewarding the consumers both through giving them insightful content as well as reducing the amount of intrusive, hard sell ads they are exposed to. In exchange for this, consumers are interacting more and sharing adverts- increasing their impact and visibility.

As Native Ads can only take place if a website offers a service bespoke to their site, expect to see more and more sites bring out their own offering.

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