Lately, advertising and marketing folks have been abuzz over what’s been called the “next biggest thing” for digital ad campaigns: “native advertising.” While some argue that it’s not entirely a new idea, blogs and advertisers have been hyping up this content-centric campaign as the newest shift for digital ads in the right direction. But what exactly is it? More importantly, is it really going to be a big deal? Lastly, will it change the face of advertising?
First, let’s answer the former question: what is “native advertising?” It’s been referred to as “branded content,” “sponsored content” and “content marketing,” but it’s all the same thing: digital advertising embedded into design. The idea is to have ad media built into the design of the website it’s advertising on, so the ad content and site’s content look one and the same. As Jason Del Rey of Ad Age wrote,
…the underlying thesis beneath them all is that web readers, viewers and social-network users are more likely to respond positively to marketing tactics that don’t look like advertising and instead take the form of the rest of the content on the website or platform. On Twitter, that means promoted accounts and tweets; on Facebook, sponsored stories. And on media properties, that amounts to written, video or image-rich posts that look a lot like the editorial content on the site and which would make proponents of church-and-state divides between advertising and editorial departments cringe.
This is a notable shift in advertising from the usual large display ads and loud banners on web pages that can be easily ignored. With this idea, ad content can be present without appearing to be obnoxious or disrupting the flow of its platform. Because of its potential, many websites and companies are jumping on the “native advertising” wave; sites such as Forbes, the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, Gawker, and even The Atlantic have been pushing native content ads on their pages. For example, Gawker will run a “Sponsored Story” in the same feed as its regular posts. It blends in the platform and consumers will only know that it’s an ad is because it tells them, not because it’s easily apparent.
So, to answer the second question: yes, it certainly seems as though that social media users are going to experience a huge wave of native ads over the next few years. For example, Mashable is gearing up for a beta launch site redesign aimed at optimizing the site for native advertising and viewable ads. So let’s answer the third question: will it change the face of digital advertising? Yes. However, the biggest concern towards native advertising is that there isn’t much evidence of its success yet, and that there’s conflicting information on how the consumer feels about their advertising experience with native content. According to a survey done by social and mobile ad firm MediaBrix, native ads aren’t impressing consumers.In the survey, online adults were asked how they felt about Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, Facebook’s Sponsored Stories, and native video ads. The results were surprising; 85% said that they felt negatively impacted by the video ads or that it did not change their perception of the brand. 62% said the same about Promoted Tweets, and 72% about Sponsored Stories. However, research done by Nielsen and Facebook found that social ads generate a 55% greater lift in ad recall than non-social ads, with the admission that individual cases may vary.
Another issue is that native ads cannot be scaled; they can’t be repeated or standardized across various platforms. The media has to be tailored and customized that particular platform, unlike traditional digital ads like banners that can be plastered across dozens of web pages. This problem of scaling leads to issues of price; producing ad content isn’t cheap, and to produce quality content across platforms is going to cost a fair amount of money. This is going to be the major problem for social platforms and brands looking expand on and succeed in content-centric marketing. Still, these setbacks don’t seem to stop the ad industry from believing in native advertising as the next biggest thing. It’s clear that native advertising is here to stay. Marketers, advertisers and start ups seem bent on pushing native ads, and there is no denying that there will be a huge shift for digital advertising.