Are Programmatically Purchased Native Ads Native Enough?

Native-adsIt seems everyone and their mothers are pushing native ad units and tools to support them. Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and most recently AOL all have native, in-feed ad units.

As these formats catch on, ad tech companies like Sharethrough, Nativo and DistroScale have developed tools designed to automate ad distribution across different publishers’ sites while matching the format of each site. But while automatically generated native ads might mimic the look and feel of the content surrounding them, it’s often unclear how well these units actually blend with their publisher hosts.

“Does (the ad) just match the shape of a news tile? Or is it integrated into the publisher or app’s content?” said Forrester Research analyst Jennifer Wise.

To be truly native, an in-feed ad must match the site’s layout as well as its content, said Sacha Xavier, media and innovation partner at Neo@Ogilvy. For example, placing an in-feed mobile gaming install ad on a news site would be just as disruptive as a banner ad, Xavier pointed out. “Native ads should be curated the same way you would curate content on a page,” she said.

Jenn Cox, mobility lead at Starcom USA, agreed.

“The ads that perform best provide the type of utility that a user would normally seek out,” Cox said. “Are you adding something that’s relevant to that platform and tailored to the users’ behavior?”

As with traditional display ads, relevance is crucial. To various degrees, vendors like Facebook, Nativo, Sharethrough and DistroScale allow clients to target their in-feed ads against criteria like geography, audience, devices and page location. They also provide analytic capabilities to further optimize the ads.

However, contextually and programmatically matched in-feed ads are not native ads, argued JiYoung Kim, SVP of creative solutions and strategy at Ansible Mobile.

“I would just call that contextual marketing,” she said. Native advertising involves providing an ad that is tailored for a specific site’s experience. Yet, when “you’re looking for places to run an ad or creative that’s designed to run agnostically, you are no longer looking at specific experiences.”

The concept of programmatic advertising and its ability to scale ads and native, i.e., customized ads, Kim continued, “have natural tensions toward each other.” Despite the push toward automated native ads, the ad content must be more closely aligned with a publisher’s site. “You can’t say that achieving 100% automation is the only innovation that is needed,” she added. “New creative experiences also require more loving care.”

Brands and some publishers are beginning to churn out more content by building their own newsrooms (like Cisco’s Network or sponsored content sites like Forbes’ Brand Voices) but social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are better-positioned to leverage native ads by virtue of having a lot of user-generated content, according to Kim.

Brands also need to move fast. Native ads may be a better way to way to grab a reader’s attention, but we are quickly approaching a “tipping point” in which the novelty is wearing off, Xavier added. “There’s so much native out there that users are starting to get numb to it,” she said.

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  1. The challenge is all in the quality of content – programmatic native so far seems to be converging to a better-designed version of display ads. Some are more editorialized than others, but there is still long way to go to create post-click engagement that actually drives ROI.

    If programmatic serving outpaces the content production and end-to-end attribution capabilities , native might go the way of display ads into banner blindeness. If brands can step up and produce enough high-quality visual and editorial content that is a destination by itself, then the “native” infrastructure will fall into place.

  2. I think the only reason “native” ads are achieving better click performance is because they are simply better camouflaged and disguised, often tricking the user into thinking the link is for real content. At least users know that a banner is an advertisement. Yes, as the author points out, there are some cases of good native ad integration within a feed (Facebook), but as these ad types find more inventory on less quality sites & apps, most will fail to perform any better than traditional banners and just serve to devalue real content links.