Home The Sell Sider Programmatic Native: What Happens When Two Buzzwords Collide?

Programmatic Native: What Happens When Two Buzzwords Collide?


peterspandesellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Peter Spande, chief revenue officer at Business Insider.

Many publishers see their programmatic and native advertising as two very different ends in their yield spectrum. Whether called the barbell or the see-saw strategy, the thinking seems to be that programmatic automates and streamlines standardized elements, leaving more bandwidth to focus on native, which requires more customization.

That is starting to change. More ad tech companies and publishers combine the two hottest monetization trends. Or their road maps suggest the two trends eventually intersect. But can and should these two types of revenue drivers mix? Is this the latest yield booster for publishers or a source for more confusion and clutter on your website? If it is a good idea, how do programmatic and native practices combine?

Just as the web banner business matured, so too will native advertising. Remember early ad serving? Well, if you don’t, it was extremely manual, tremendously different from one site to the next and, in hindsight, extremely inflexible. As native advertising solutions of all types start to become more than experiments, the tools used to deploy and measure those ads will also evolve. Many of the programmatic tools used can and will expand to deliver native advertising in the future.

Crucial Questions

Before a publisher jumps into partnerships and new product development with programmatic native, a few questions need to be answered.

What does native mean for your business? The term “native” can mean so many things to publishers, advertisers, ad tech and, perhaps most notably, John Oliver. Like so many popular terms in the advertising space, its overuse and frequent co-opting by competing groups make the term nearly useless. So before you embrace programmatic solutions, figure out what’s right for your site.

What is the offering? This lack of a clear definition leads to the next challenge when publishers consider programmatic native offerings. What does the site visitor see? A promoted tweet is “native” to Twitter but is a tweet served on a content site also native? If a native ad can be served anywhere, like any other served ad unit, is it really anything other than a different creative format?

By far the most common application of the term “native advertising” is sponsored content. This seems, so far, to be the area where most ad tech companies are looking to build out programmatic alternatives for publishers, so let’s dig in here for now.

Benefits And Challenges


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When publishers answer those questions, they can better weigh the pros and cons of these executions.

First, the benefits. Programmatic delivery of sponsored content solves a number of problems for publishers. For publishers selling very few native programs, for example, turning to programmatic delivery immediately solves the backfill issues for their business. Partner with a “native ad network” or place your native inventory in one or more SSPs, and suddenly a wide variety of programs featuring content become available.

Successful native programs sold directly can also expand with this programmatic infrastructure. Audience extension or additional ad tech partners allow a successful program to expand beyond your site.

But programmatic native also introduces some new issues that publishers must solve for themselves. The most important challenge is the user experience. As a publisher turns over control to content promotions in areas that were once reserved strictly for editorial content, the potential for user confusion explodes. Imagine an article on the most extreme burgers getting served on the diet section of a website. Or an article on the latest SUV appearing on an eco website.

The conversation and value proposition for marketers often shifts from a discussion about the unique value of your site to a discussion of audience, rather than context, which often decreases the value of your offering. 

More On The Horizon

The benefits and challenges described above come from a direct translation of the existing programmatic advertising infrastructure. RTB ads become RTB native placements. But for content publishers, the promise of programmatic native could become much more exciting.

We expect websites to adapt to our interests and behaviors. Social media platforms have done this at tremendous scale and search engines tweak search results based on past behavior, location and other data inputs. Why can’t first- and third-party data create the same kind of customized experiences for content sites and branded content offerings?

For publishers selling a tremendous amount of native programs, programmatic tools will help maximize yield and inventory by determining right person, time and place to serve specific assets. Programmatic delivery provides the promise of increasing the relevance and utility of these programs through the use of first- and third-party data.

If I know a visitor to my website has a voracious appetite for science fiction movies, wouldn’t I want to utilize that information for the marketer looking to drive interest in an upcoming science fiction film?

Currently, most publishers’ infrastructure can’t realize this potential. But what has become standard fuel for more precise ad serving can and will start to become a part of how publishers present and promote content, including branded content.

As native advertising programs move from experiments to a major component in marketers’ messaging strategies, the sophistication of these platforms will increase as well.

Follow Peter Spande (@PeteSpande), Business Insider (@businessinsider) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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