Startup TripleLift Looks to Marry Native and Programmatic

Promises exchange for 'beautiful' native ads at scale

Two of the bigger macro trends in the online ad industry of late, programmatic buying and native advertising, don’t seem to have much in common—as one is about automation and the other about custom branded content with lots of heavy lifting. 


But the team behind TripleLift sees a potentially powerful convergence at hand. The company is rolling out what’s it’s calling a native advertising exchange that they believe could reinvent the online ad business while dramatically scaling the native ad opportunity. 


According to chief strategy officer Ari Lewine, TripleLift can take a brand’s image and automatically make it look and feel like the content on a given Web page—particularly on Web sites that have adopted that image heavy, Pinterest-esque look and feel. Like other forms of native ads, TripleLift’s ads are delivered within a site’s editorial stream. But unlike, say, brand content of the BuzzFeed variety, the technology creates the ads—which are actually content—automatically. 


And now, TripleLift is letting brands buy these ads at scale programmatically, it says.

“We’re trying to supplant the banner," said Lewine. "The only reason banners exist is that there is not a viable alternative. “But all brands have visual content. Our ads are literally part of the fabric of the page. And they're beautiful."

TripleLift has already signed on brands such as Kohler and Nissan. Over 200 publishers will supply inventory to the new exchange, including The Daily Beast, FoodGawker and Elite Daily.

James Sandora, director of global digital strategy and innovation at Kohler, said that brands have struggled to tell impactful stories in banner ads. But considering that advertisers spends lots of effort and money to showcase products on their own Web sites, using that Web content in place of an ad has a lot of appeal, he said.

“Those are the most valuable assets we create,” Sandora said. “And you need to put your best foot forward as a brand.”

Sure, but big custom native ad campaigns generally take time. TripleLift is also selling advertisers speed an efficiency with a native exchange.

Nissan has been testing TripleLift as part of the company’s Innovation Labs since last fall. Recently, the company needed to dial up its marketing for a product that was selling well—without much lead time.

“TripleLift gave us a lot of flexibility,” said Fred Reinfelder Jr., senior manager, digital marketing, Nissan Motor Co.

One of the reasons that TripleLift is getting sites to sign onto its exchange is “they are playing in a space where there is a lot of pressure on publishers,” said Chad Kartchner, who runs Nissan's Innovation Lab.

The sports blog network FanSided (a partner of Sports Illustrated) started testing TripleLift native ads in November. CPMs have been strong, said chief product officer Matt Blake, because the ads are treated as content. "With standard banners, we have no say in what they look like or where they should go," he said. "That's up to the whims of banner ads world. So we’d like to see more of this."

Still, TripleLift has to guard against cheapening its inventory by having it graded against banners, many warned. And there are some doubts about how automated and customized the units can be (since the promise of TripleLift’s ads is that they fit each site differently). Lewine said the company’s technology takes care of this automatically.

Plus, agencies have to get ready for a native ad exchange, said Roy Chung, VivaKi's’s director of R&D. "I definitely think there will be an appetite for this," he said. "But I don't’t think it’s there yet."

The good news for TripleLift is that they are at the center of several major trends. Plus, the industry overall is openminded.

Said Kohler's Sandora: “There is a real hunger to try new things right now."