A fundamental challenge of native advertising is scalability. A Google search ad can’t run as a Forbes BrandVoice ad, nor can a Twitter Promoted Tweet be placed as a Tumblr Radar spot.
That customization has hampered the adoption of native ads, even though standardization has always been the movement’s natural enemy. But one of native advertising’s biggest proponents, San Francisco-based ad tech startup Sharethrough, claims to have found a way to reconcile non-standardization and scale.
“Native advertising version one was about how make it work. Native advertising version two is about how to make it scale,” said Sharethrough CEO Dan Greenberg.
Sharethrough has developed a technology called Real Time Templating (RTT) that breaks down an ad into its individual parts and reconstructs it according to the environment it will run in. Similar to mobile gaming ad network Chartboost’s approach, RTT then reassembles each part, like the headline text and image, then customizes it to a publisher’s page, taking into account style elements like font, font color, layout width and height, placement of thumbnail images and then applying those attributes to each part of the ad.
“This was a mobile-first innovation,” Greenberg said of RTT. Sharethrough began testing its first mobile ads six months ago. But like their desktop counterparts, each Sharethrough Sponsored Story unit had to be handcrafted for each specific publisher. Two months into that undertaking, Sharethrough developed RTT “because mobile is scaling faster than we thought,” said Greenberg, adding that the technology can be retroactively applied to the desktop Sharethrough Sponsored Story units.
Half a year after testing its first mobile ads, Sharethrough has signed on 25 publishers, including People, Forbes and Serious Eats, to run the Sponsored Stories in their mobile sites’ article feeds. As with the desktop versions, the ads—which are priced on a vCPM basis, meaning an advertiser only pays after 1,000 people see at least 50 percent of its ad for at least one second—appear similar to the publisher’s surrounding organic content, which may help explain their performance rates.
Greenberg said Sharethrough is seeing 1 to 2 percent engagement rates for its ads on mobile; that is, one to two of every 100 people who encounter the ad click through to the linked brand content or, in the case of a video ad, watches it. “In some cases, the engagement rate on a native ad is equal to or higher than the [publisher’s] native content right below it,” he said.