By Marc Poirier
As much as people love to complain about changes to the design of social networking sites, or any website that they visit often, what they love to do more is complain about advertising. More than a quarter of those who use Facebook (27%) dislike having to look at ads, while LinkedIn and Twitter ad disparagement clocks in at 23% and 12%, respectively.
And yet the amount of money spent on online advertising continues to grow. Internet ad revenues were as high as $20.1 billion in 2013, which is an increase of 18% over the previous year.
So, online advertising isn’t dead. And what is really important to those with websites and social networks is that they be able to display advertising to their readers in a way that does not take away from the user experience. Enter native ads.
What Are Native Ads?
Put simply, native ads are integrated with the content of a publisher or a social media platform in such away as to have the ads blend in with the rest of the content. Instead of having ads in a separate spot, which seems to annoy people, ads are part of the content. On social media platforms they become part of one’s news feed, and on publisher sites they are presented as just one more piece of content that a reader can enjoy.
For example, advertorial opportunities on sites like The New York Times allow advertisers to present sponsored content that is generally long form in nature, and seeks to provide readers with information about a brand or product in such a way as it appears to be just one more article, thus allowing the message to be seen by readers without “interrupting” the flow of the site with a blatant advertisement.
For social media and biddable media publishers, these ads are integrated into the news feed, and are meant to appear as the same kind of content that users would generally interact with and, again, try to add to the flow of the feed instead of detract from it.
The goal for most publishers of native ads is to provide users with interactive content that users are likely to engage with. For publishers, success is based on page views, and time on page (http://digiday.com/publishers/measure-native-ads/) and for those who are clever enough to create content that is of real value to their target audience, they have an opportunity to have that content shared widely by readers of that content.
In addition, publishers must be wary of providing too much advertorial content, but find a balance that seeks to provide value to their readers at every step of the game. And for the producers of native ad content, they must seek to establish trust with their readers. They must know their audience, and provide content in the places where it will be most effective, and least intrusive.
Apart from the aforementioned opportunities that native advertisers have in establishing trust with their readers and providing information in a non-intrusive manner, native ads, when used on social media publishers, can be used to begin the process of tracking users across devices.
With so many means of reaching customers, it is vital to advertisers to be able to reach their potential customers on each of the devices they’re using, and with this in place it gives advertisers the ability to begin a conversation with their customers with the intention of leading them down the sales funnel.
This all leads to higher brand engagement and awareness, and with added engagement and increased trust comes more willingness on behalf of a consumer to follow through with a transaction with the advertiser.
Where the process of native advertising becomes unwieldy is in the many, many channels available to advertisers. For those who, for example, are creating display ads for multiple publishers, the format may change, but the basics are the same across channels.
With native advertising, every single channel has a unique way of presenting that content, which means — especially for digital marketing agencies with a large number of clients – a LOT of work. In fact, agencies will end up working a lot more for the same amount of money.
It comes down to two words: not scalable. If every single publisher has their own ad format, advertisers will have far too many different sets of rules to adhere to, and tracking overall results will become so difficult as to be nearly impossible, especially for those who are not using specialized software to help them track their results across channels.
As native advertising is still in its infancy, best practices are still being formed, analyzed, and re-strategized. But like any successful mode of advertising, the name of the game is focus, reach, engagement, and the establishment of trust with a target audience. Each advertiser will need to test the waters to find the channel that works best for their brand or product. Wade in with one or two before diving into the deep end with every possible channel, and establish best practices for each before moving on.
Native ads are an amazing opportunity for both publishers and advertiser, and those advertisers who find a means of mitigating the impact of tracking across so many different channels will be most successful.
Marc Poirier is co-founder and executive vice president, business development, for Acquisio.