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.

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