Native Advertising: could it save the fate of traditional display?

With an ever changing digital advertising ecosystem, it can be difficult to navigate and stay abreast with the latest trends and developments within this exciting environment.  One such advance that has seen increasing growth over the last couple of years is that of native advertising.

The online ad-space, that began with traditional display banners has seen phenomenal growth but become increasingly cluttered; with brands facing the constant challenge to deliver clever and innovative content, in order to make their ad’s stand out from the crowd.  Testament to this, is the fact that back in the year 2000 the average CTR for display banners was 9%, but in 2012 with ad-weary consumers this had fallen to a mere 0.2%.  With such a sharp decline, and many questioning the effectiveness of standard display banners, the medium demanded a game changer that could once again deliver stand out performance; even perhaps native advertising.

Native advertising, simply put are ad’s that match the style, form, function and voice of the online environment in which they appear.  This provides many benefits, not the least of which is that it attempts to deliver relevant content within the context of the user experience; filling the void between brand publishing and banner adverts.  This is the major difference between standard display banners and native ad’s; whereas display banners are limited to being hosted within an ad exchange and disappear once they have been served, native ad’s live on forever alongside the plethora of online content.

This provides a great opportunity for brands to be creative, entertaining and even disruptive, in delivering content where target audiences are already actively looking for it; adding a layer of credibility.  The matching of visual design simply enhances the UX by responding to the device being used, including mobile, desktop and tablet, resulting in no two placements being alike  Popular current examples include: promoted tweets, sponsored stories on Facebook, videos and ad’s that appear within the content streams of popular media sites, such as Buzzfeed, and ‘More from around the web’ suggested articles.  With a consistent user experience, coupled with brands focused on providing entertaining content to qualified target audiences, this has the potential to boost the shareability and ultimate success of campaigns.

There are numerous examples and case studies of brands who have achieved great success; often through publisher partnerships.  In 2012, Buzzfeed and Mini collaborated to launch a series of custom social posts to drive broad awareness and emotional engagement with the brand.  The campaign was highly effective, with over a million engagements; two thirds of which came via social sharing and a follow up brand effect study found that exposed participants had improved brand perception and consideration.  By integrating the brand’s personality and voice with the highly engaged audience, it allowed for a seamless content experience.  Similarly, GE have continued to invest in an award winning content partnership with ‘The Economist’ in the form of a blog entitled ‘Look Ahead’, providing a daily look at innovations that are transforming business from around the globe.  This provides great credibility for the brand, by delivering high quality insight to an audience of key global decision makers.

Further support for native advertising can be found in a recent study by Sharethrough and IPG Media labs that found on average consumers looked at native ad’s 53% more frequently; with native ad’s registering an 18% higher lift in purchase intent than standard display ad’s.  Whilst this research was US based, the results are likely to be consistent across the globe and can therefore be applied to other key regions, including Europe

Whilst the results achieved to date have been impressive, native advertising should not become the stand alone online advertising format but rather a key tactic within the total digital media mix.  There is still a place for standard display banners in many environments to deliver scale and cost effective reach for brands.  By adding a layer of native advertising such as partnerships with publishers or editorial articles, it can provide much needed credibility for brands, whilst delivering a first class user experience.  The key for even greater success is to partner with publishers that have the highest affinity towards a brands audience; but with the caveat that it will be meaningless unless the content is compelling and relevant to them.

With publishers needing to further boost revenue streams as print continues to decline, and brands on the other hand looking to further enhance their communications platforms, the future looks bright for native advertising.  The exponential growth seen over the last couple of years is forecast to continue, with native ad revenue expected to reach $21 billion in 2018, up 347% vs $4.7 billion in 2013.  Whilst some critics have written off traditional display advertising, labelling it a medium of the past, others see the promise that native advertising brings as a evolution towards its future survival.

A search for truly integrated marketing solutions

Six month ago I made the decision to move from working client side to joining a leading London media agency and it’s been a really interesting transition.

One aspect I particularly enjoy is the regular meeting of media owners; many tech start-up’s with the latest in mobile, digital, and programmatic offerings.  I’m often a little cynical with some of their ideas, but occasionally you listen to one with intrigue as they showcase something they’ve created that could become the next big thing in a brands marketing arsenal.

What makes consumers tick these days?  What has the biggest influence on their purchasing decisions?  How can marketers optimise their advertising to keep up to date with constantly changing media consumption habits?

I’m always searching for the answers to these questions.

I often read with interest, columns within the marketing press that share the results for ad recall studies, or the weekly viral video chart.  For myself, most of the time I watch adverts online for the first time rather than TV.  Now that’s not to say that they haven’t been served on TV, but with catch up TV and fast forwarding through adverts I often don’t pay attention or even notice them.

I’m not alone here, and this issue is exacerbated even further with the younger generation who have known nothing but the digital age; 6 seconds is the new 30 seconds!

And so when I recently listened to wywy discuss their ad platform that looks to optimise for the multi-screening consumer by extending the reach and effectiveness of TV advertising, I was intrigued.

I won’t go into the complex algorithms, mainly because I don’t understand them but they essentially create a digital sound print of your TV advert so that they can they serve real-time, multi-device ad’s when the spot is on air.  For those who have run TV campaigns, you’ll know the schedule is subject to change, which is why the digital sound print is created to know when to kick in and serve ad’s during a 60-90 second window around the traditional 30 second TV spot.

A lot of ad’s nowadays have a digital call to action but you’ve got to be paying attention to them in order to see them.  This offering is subtle; it maxmises budgets by minimising waste and truly integrates the advertising for a seamless brand experience.

The other potential angle that I found really interesting was the opportunity to target competitor advertising.  You could serve online ad’s whilst your competitor is running their TV adverts – their substantial media investment can drive category interest, with a competitor brand then swooping in to drive potential sales and conversion with their real-time biddable ad’s.

A recent Nielsen study found that up to 50% of people are now multi-screening whilst watching TV and this number will only increase over time.  The challenge to provide truly integrated marketing campaigns is exciting and I look forward to discovering similar companies that are looking to provide the next big thing in this area.

I’d love to hear of any other companies that are pioneering in this space – please get in touch!