Native Advertising More Often Gets it Right - But Choose Wisely

Originally written for Millward Brown Digital's 2015 Digital & Media Predictions.

Native advertising—online ads created to blend in with a publishing platform’s format—will be huge in 2015. However, not all native solutions are created equal. The worst are perceived as blatant propaganda and are as boring as your parents’ vacation slideshow. But the best evoke positive feelings, resonate with consumers, and drive brand impact. Advertisers should identify publishers getting native right and then partner with them to execute best-in-class solutions.

The Atlantic’s early foray into native advertising left much to be desired. The magazine published a native ad called “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” The Church of Scientology paid for the piece, which was resoundingly criticized for its overwhelming bias and for only including a single note that it was sponsored. Other publishers sometimes seem to disown their native advertising by including excessive indicators that the content is sponsored. Whether deceitful or disowned, this sort of native advertising is unlikely to deliver a strong return.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Onion and Forbes strike an effective balance between advertising and editorial by explicitly mentioning that content is sponsored and perfectly matching their sites’ regular tone and style. Within the walls of The Onion headquarters is Onion Labs, a full-service agency that produces content. Similarly, Forbes offers their BrandVoice platform for both print and digital clients. Onion Labs boasts clients such as 7-Eleven, Microsoft, and YouTube, and Forbes has produced BrandVoice content for financial powerhouses including TD Ameritrade, Merrill Lynch, and Northwestern Mutual.

Native ads are able to succeed in a number of ways that traditional display ads have not. Although consumers can find display ads intrusive, they may trust native content more since it runs alongside editorial content. While consumers often ignore ads on the periphery of a webpage, native content tends to sit front and center. Most importantly, however, effective native ads have the ability to speak directly to consumer interests. For example, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues utilized a GIF-heavy Buzzfeed native ad called “17 News Anchors that are Having a Rough Day” to promote the movie. The content fit perfectly with both Buzzfeed’s clever editorial content and the movie’s slapstick humor.

Research from Sharethrough and IPG Media Lab indicates that native ads consistently outperform their standard counterparts – consumers look at native ads 52 percent more frequently than banner ads and are more likely to share with friends and family. And as marketers begin to understand the benefits that native solutions offer, they are beginning to spend big.

Marketers spent $4.7 billion on native ads in 2013, and this number is expected to more than quadruple to $21 billion by 2018, according to research from BI Intelligence and the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The smartest advertisers will use the best platforms to get the most out of this money, but the worst will see it go to waste. Brand effectiveness research in 2015 will start to uncover whether the promise of native is being consistently delivered. 

#gettingmediaright implication:

The key for advertisers will be to partner with the best publishers, and the key for publishers will be to follow the native golden rules – confidently identify native ads as sponsored content, match the site’s editorial tone, and create content that resonates with the audience.