Publishers are nearly obligated to adopt the feed formats out of basic user experience concerns, according to Craig Kostelic, head of digital at Epicurious and Bon Appétit, which both recently received digital redesigns.
“If you know half your audience is looking at your site through mobile, it has to be responsive and has to be a feed,” he said.
Native advertising isn’t necessarily a factor in the decision, publishers are simply responding to UX issues. Native wasn’t a consideration for Chris Pirrone, GM of the sports media group at USA Today, who oversaw recent digital makeovers on his group’s sites.
“We did not specifically alter our redesign to grow our native advertising capabilities, but we have carved out specific in-feed placements to support our native campaigns,” Pirrone said in an email. “By doing so we were able to scale our native inventory.”
Kostelic similarly noted that the move to feeds means Epicurious and Bon Appétit can more easily format sponsored content, using the same content and technology for mobile, tablets and desktop browsing.
“Sites redesigned toward a feed of visual content create a better user experience across all devices,” said Lewine. Despite native not being the catalyzing force, he still described the effect as “a fundamental boost” for players in the space.
And not only do feeds allow for responsive ads across channels, a necessity for native to scale, they also act as an entry to smaller publishers, who can build out native advertising opportunities without the content creation or product investments.
Sponsored content, which has received attention as high-profile publishers like BuzzFeed and The New York Times develop profitable, in-house marketing studios, is less scalable. It typically involves higher budgets and a more laborious process between advertisers, ad tech vendors and publisher teams from marketing, legal, editorial and product.
That jumble of teams is itself a barrier, and industry insiders blame it for native’s slow build. “You’d be shocked to find out how much the ease of doing business, streamlining the process with those internal groups … makes the difference between a marketer going with one partner or another,” Kostelic said.
Publisher adoption is shifting the balance, but the original feed – social media – remains the native advertising industry’s bread and butter. Social feeds account for almost three-quarters of all native ad dollars and the vast majority of growth in overall native spending, according to recent Business Insider research.
A year ago, eMarketer predicted 2015 would see $3.7 billion spent on native ads. Instead, the industry is on pace for $7.5 billion on native for social media alone.
“Eventually we wont even call them 'feed ads' or 'native ads' – we'll just call them ads," said Dan Greenberg, founder and CEO at Sharethrough and co-chair of the IAB’s native advertising working group. “This new design standard isn’t just cosmetic, this is a fundamental rethinking of user experience and functionality on the web.”
As one of the leaders of the group that is tasked with formalizing the technical differences between different types of feeds, Greenberg also highlighted that the market needs to continue refining each subcategory.
For instance, HookLogic, a performance marketer for ecommerce sites, is built specifically to optimize for product feeds.
“It’s disruptive – in a bad way – when the advertising feels out of place on a page,” said HookLogic CEO Jonathan Opdyke, whose ads on retailers’ websites essentially monetize the higher engagement levels native ad formats get from users.