To Native Or Not To Native, That Is The Question


Like many of you, I see the term ‘native advertising’ flood my inbox from industry magazines and pundit newsletters.  Currently, I have more than 50 articles about native advertising sitting in my inbox today.  In case you don’t have time to read that many articles, here is my brief review of what native advertising is and how best to use it.

Some marketers may think this is a fad, but according to a 2014 eMarketer report, spending on native ads on social sites alone is expected to increase from $3.1 billion to $5 billion by 2017.  As a percentage of total social ad spending, it projected that native would rise from 38.8 percent in 2014 to 42.4 percent in 2017.

Seems to me native advertising may be sticking around long enough for the majority of marketers to potentially use it in their promotional mix.  A recent Ad Age article described how many publishers such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Time Inc are increasing staffing to capitalize on the native advertising opportunity.

What Is Native Advertising?

In order to best understand how native advertising can benefit your business, let’s first define what it is.  Native advertising as defined by Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) as “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong”.

Multiple Faces Of Native Advertising

Publishers use a wide array of forms to persuade consumers to click on sponsored content.  IAB defined six commonly used forms as in-feed, paid search, recommendation widgets, promoted listings, in-ad, and custom.  Most of us have seen in-feed ads and recommendation widgets in our national publications for some time now.

The association offers some language that alludes to native advertising in-feeds such as  “Advertisement” or “AD“ (Google, YouTube), “Promoted” or “Promoted by” (Twitter, Sharethrough), “Sponsored”, “Sponsored by” or “Sponsored Content” (LinkedIn, Yahoo), “Presented by” + “Featured Partner” tag (BuzzFeed, Huffington Post), and “Suggested Post” + a “Sponsored” tag (Facebook).

The point: advertisers and publishers generally place language around the content to notify the consumer that it is not apart of the regular editorial content.

What’s The Fuss?

The biggest concern about native advertising is that the reader is aware that the content is advertising not editorial.  Most readers or consumers have become aware of paid advertising in their favorite news outlet or social media feed.

HubShout, an online marketing firm, conducted a survey last year that found 72.8 percent of internet users who have read sponsored content believe it has equal or greater value as non-sponsored content on the same website.

Tips For How Best To Use Native Advertising

Partner With The Right Publisher

Part of the intrigue of native advertising is that publishers have the audience that businesses need.  The key is to make sure the publisher has the right audience for the content you want to produce.  Before jumping into a native advertising campaign ask questions about the type of traffic the publisher receives, who are they, and most important what type of engagement do most brands see?  Native advertising like any other content initiative is an extension of the brand.


Like any other campaign, what useful information are you providing your audience?  It’s about what the audience wants to read rather than what the company wants to say.  Matthew Schwartz of PR News wrote some sage advice when creating paid content, “A simple test for any content is to take off your PR and marketing shoes and look at the content from the audience’s perspective.  Does it focus on issues and subjects that people are talking about outside of your brand?”  

As David Ogilvy once said, “What really decides consumer to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.” 

Brands can also look internally to the sales or product development folks for ideas on content.  When I worked in technology we would create a running list of all the questions we were asked either from the market or customers.  This list would help drive content from our blog to editorial content.  The same process can be used for native advertising.  Ideally, the publishers you partner with can come up with some ideas for you too.

Decide On A Goal

Like any good marketing plan you need to identify what you want to achieve.  Without a clear vision of your campaign’s goal – whether to increase brand awareness or engagement – you will never get beyond tactical conversations.  Why?  That conversation is like a rocking chair: Everyone feels great about accomplishing a task – they feel movement – but, as time will surely tell, your initiative ends up going nowhere.

A former colleague, Patrick Costello, founder of Naytev, chatted about the importance of goals in campaigns.  “ What are the tangible things you want to drive with this campaign?  If it is exposure, publishers can focus on it, but this is more than just eyeballs on a page.  Eyeballs don’t equal value.”

Patrick offered this goal for brands considering the use of native advertising, “Think engagement.  Meaningful currency is a constant of new business.”

Ultimately, engagement translates into discussion and shares.  Discussion and shares yield into visits to your site and form conversions.

Promotion And Distribution Is Key

In Google’s Zero Moment of Truth study it showed on average, consumers are reading 10.4 pieces of content before making a purchase.   You want to make sure you are where your audience is and more importantly, finding content that leads back to your brand.

In fact that is why you are partnering with a publisher: to deliver an active and engaged readership that is interested in your content.  Hubspot wrote some helpful hints on how to build a successful native campaign:

  1. What is the demographic breakdown of the audience?  (i.e. company size, title, industry, etc.)
  2. Will the content be posted in other channels such as newsletters or email?
  3. Will there be social promotion?
  4. Other distribution methods included?

Whether you are considering going native or not, the results are compelling.  70% of individuals want to learn about products through content rather than traditional advertising.  More than half of consumers who click on native ads do so with the intention of purchasing something, compared with just 34 percent who click on banner ads.

The key with any “new” channel is to make sure your goals are realistic, your content is relevant to your audience, and your management team supports marketing campaigns from idealization through execution.