How Technology Is Redefining Native Advertising for Brands

The pace of change has many marketers scrambling to keep up

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Native advertising has come a long way since its inception. Initially, it was met with customer resistance and brand criticism, but many brands have since adopted native ads as a standard part of their strategies.

It is not surprising then that native advertising is estimated to grow 156 percent by 2020. This is perhaps due to a strong shift in consumer attitudes. In a recent study on reader experiences in native advertising, 86 percent of participants were in favor of it. However, the growth in mobile devices and apps, videos and social media has changed the native advertising game leaving many brands scrambling to adapt.

Salim Tarazi

 In October 2016, the Better Business Bureau added new policies surrounding native advertising. Between new rules and increasing competition, the bar for an effective native advertisement that keeps users engaged continues to rise. The changing technology landscape creates a dynamic foundation for native. Additionally, we expect to see more evolution as autonomous cars enter the market. Without the necessity of devoting attention to driving, commutes and car rides become another opportunity for media and ad consumption.

Imagine a ride to work in your self-driving car where your window becomes a platform to combine augmented reality and native advertisement with your surroundings. Your window might indicate a new restaurant as you are passing by, or point out a sale at one of your favorite retailers. How can brands ensure their native programs keep pace with technology, regulation and evolving consumer expectations?

The native ad field has seen a lot of creative innovation as of late. The experience for consumers within social media applications, for example, have become even more seamless. Consider some of the photo sharing apps that now integrate sponsored commerce images. These native ads allow users to shop without leaving the app, in a format that matches an environment they are already acclimated to. Ultimately, this ad puts the customer closer to the purchase transaction, without disrupting the user experience.

While native provides a great opportunity for advertisers to win over new customers, it’s not without its own drawbacks and weaknesses. One issue that native advertising is up against involves transparency with users. While the IAB has outlined a playbook to address this, there is still inconsistency with publishers clearly delineating ads from other content. And while the IAB is working on an industry standardization to address this issue, a solution can’t come fast enough. Advertisers need to make sure the experience is clear enough to distinguish ads from content.

Ads that consider user flow, identify themselves clearly and are intent based have the best chance to feel relevant to a consumer and non-invasive.

For advertisers, there is also the concern of investing additional time and effort in creating different ad iterations to support different ad sizes. Every publisher has a custom ad size which makes it hard to scale for advertisers. As such, it is more work for advertisers to adapt their native ads to every publisher. While some publishers provide resources to ease the burden of creating an ad format that is supported universally, many advertisers find themselves scrambling with their own creative teams to ensure that their ad is up to par with consumer expectations.

My advice to brands looking to make the most of native advertisement is three-fold. First, partner with publishers who adopt IAB standards. Over a year ago, the FTC released a lengthy set of guidelines for native ads. Due to its lack of clarity in multiple areas, a MediaRadar report found that 70 percent of publishers aren’t compliant with the guidelines. Advertisers who work exclusively with publishers who have adopted IAB standards will find that their native advertisement campaigns run more smoothly and are set up with less hassle.

Second, keep an open mind. When it comes to implementation, it’s important to remember that what might work for one brand could be completely ineffective to a close competitor. It’s easy to overlook that native ads come in different formats. In addition to sponsored articles and images, promoted lists in a search query and recommendation widgets are also options in the native landscape. Advertisers should run their native ad strategies with initial testing, and then double down on what shows evidence of being most effective without being too worried about what works for other brands.

And third, remember the three user experience priorities: Integrated, Transparent and Relevant. If you consider some of the best native ads today, you probably think of brands like Pandora, Yelp and BuzzFeed. Their approaches have three things in common. First, their ads integrate at the right moment. For example, a promoted listing on Yelp consistently addresses a call to action that a user is already in the process of taking. Their ads in these situations are also always clearly labeled and transparent.

In a recent consumer study, 54 percent of respondents have felt deceived by native advertising in the past. Ads that consider user flow, identify themselves clearly and are intent based have the best chance to feel relevant to a consumer and non-invasive.

 So what’s the recipe for success? The example of native ads moving into ecommerce enablement is just a sample of what’s possible when these campaigns are executed thoughtfully. One major solar energy company surpassed its advertisement goals as a result of leveraging advanced native advertising, and keeping the three aforementioned pillars in mind.

The company originally sought to acquire a high volume of qualified leads for their clean energy services at an efficient cost, and learn more about their audience, targeting and effective placements by running multiple tactics. By identifying performance drivers and optimizing toward those placements, they drove down cost-per-lead and cost-per-opportunity. The company surpassed its goals by 50-250 percent and while the campaign started as cross-device, the company’s native, in-app mobile ad unit consistently outperformed.

As technology continues to disrupt every industry, it’s crucial that brands and advertisers begin planning now. Considering a properly integrated user experience and engagement across devices as well as within different platforms like social is only a starting point.

Brands should take care to work with publishers that keep up with IAB standards and keep an open mind about what methods might have the best payoffs. Ensure that your native advertising strategy is scalable, relevant and transparent in order to continue to further nurture the brand-consumer relationship.

Salim Tarazi (@starazi) is the director of U.S. Ad Operations at eBay Advertising.