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Native May Sink Before It Sails


justin-choi“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Justin Choi, CEO at Nativo.

Last December, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a native advertising playbook to establish a common framework for the industry. Since then, native has become a popular channel for brand advertisers looking to drive consumer attention and engagement, and publishers, such as The Wall Street Journal and Time, seeking more sustainable monetization opportunities.

But with all this momentum, there is a specific type of execution – in-feed ads – that could undermine native’s true promise.

In-Feed Vs. True Native: Know The Difference

In-feed ads that unexpectedly whisk users away from the publisher’s site when clicked – IAB dubs these “linked in-feed” ads – are often bucketed synonymously with true native ad executions that keep users on the publisher’s site. Although linked in-feed ads appear cosmetically similar, the differences pose tremendous risks to native ad usage, audience loyalty, consumer behavior and KPI performance.

To date, determining an ad’s “nativeness” has largely focused on its alignment with a site’s editorial form, look and feel. But two frequently overlooked requirements for native are even more critical: contextual relevance and ad behavior.

First, contextual relevance is key to effective distribution of advertiser brand content. Done well, it ensures brands reach consumers who are actively consuming related content on relevant sites. But when presented in the wrong context, brand content looks out of place, as though the publisher mistakenly posted to the wrong site section. As a result, contextual misalignment wastes ad budget since it inhibits a brand’s ability to engage consumers where they are most open and receptive to brand content.

Beyond contextual relevance, aligning the native ad unit’s behavior to user expectation is the most critical characteristic of an effective native execution. In other words, when a user clicks on the native ad unit, the resulting experience must match what the user expected and wanted to happen. For example, when users browse publisher content and click on in-feed editorial material, they expect to navigate to a full article page on the publisher site. By contrast, unexpectedly redirecting users to an external site off of the publisher’s domain rattles user trust and breaks the social contract between consumers and publishers.

Escaping Interruptive Advertising’s Fate

For publishers, linked in-feed ads deliver an unexpected interruptive user experience, so allowing them to run on the site is like placing land mines in the editorial stream. This practice teaches users that clicking on sponsored content will generate an unexpected and interruptive experience. Hijacking the attention of users is a strategy that brands increasingly accept as self-defeating. The precipitous decline of engagement with banner ads is well documented. Similarly, pre-roll video skip rates are skyrocketing, with more than 80% of viewers routinely skipping.


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Should native follow the banner’s well-worn path to irrelevance, publishers and brands will unknowingly extend “banner blindness” to native. Users will quickly adapt and avoid all in-feed formats because they can’t distinguish between a linked in-feed ad and a true native execution. As a result, the entire native advertising category will suffer.

Ultimately, what I fear most are the user behaviorstriggered by contextually irrelevant and interruptive executions, including accelerated consumer adoption of tools that block all ads from appearing.

With positive preliminary performance results and leading executives encouraging the industry to embrace native, marketers continue to ramp up their native ad spending. But if native suffers the same fate as banners, then we will have failed to capture its promise.

Matching Form And Function For The Attention Web

To date, interruptive ad formats have dominated digital advertising, leaving few tools for brand marketers to operate with. “The direct-response model of online advertising is skewing the form and function from branding to action,” observed Patrick Smith, Briefing Media’s editor and chief analyst.

Today’s Attention Web, coupled with advanced ad technology and measurement, paves the way for brand storytelling with content at scale without encumbering the user experience. Whereas in-feed ads have evolved as the next generation of interruptive ads, true native – where form, context and behavior align with user expectations – combined with quality brand content, inspires genuine connections between brands and their audiences and restores the value of digital advertising across the entire ecosystem of marketers, publishers and consumers.

Follow Justin Choi (@JustinCie), Nativo (@NativoPlatform) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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