The online ad industry is going native. Consumers’ migration to mobile has prompted a do-over in which the dreaded banner ad is being kicked to the curb in favor of messaging that behaves much as other content does.
For instance, this BuzzFeed post entitled “15 Reasons Why Cats Are the Most Fearless Creatures” looks just like any other story on the site, but it’s actually an ad for retailer Target.
That, at least, is the standard definition of native advertising. There is some debate. Ian Shafer, the CEO of DeepFocus, for instance, thinks that ad units like Facebook’s Sponsored Stories or Premium Ads are native advertising, but the kind of stuff that editorial operations are doing is just repackaged advertorials.
Shafer’s not the only one who’s confused. At a panel during the Native Advertising Summit in New York in March, the definition of native advertising included ads during soap operas and product placement, in short any type of advertising where the placement appeared to be appropriate. (This risks confusion with some definitions of “contextual advertising.”)
The fact that the definition is still being hashed out is not surprising. Unlike other buzzwords, though, native advertising is not an older term that has been reappropriated. The term appears to have come from a talk that investor Fred Wilson gave at OMMA Global last September. Wilson didn’t use the term “native advertising,” but he did mention “native monetization” for web properties, which he described as ads that were “unique and native to the experience” of the site.
Dan Greenberg, the CEO of Sharethrough, liked the idea and soon was promoting his vision of “native advertising.” Greenberg has positioned Sharethrough as a thought leader in the space and produced the Native Advertising Summit.
Sharethrough recently partnered with researcher IPG for a report that found, among other things, that consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently that display ads, and 32% of respondents said they would share a native ad with a family member.
Does that mean those consumers will buy more of the products being advertised? The report claims an 18% lift in purchase intent for native advertising vs. banner ads. Cristina Heise, VP of ad agency gyro Cincinnati, says that ringing up a sale isn’t necessarily the purpose of a native ad. “Most of marketing is about repeat exposure and conditioning associating an experience with a brand,” she says.
But what is native advertising again? Heise’s view, native advertising “goes native” in the sense that it adjusts to its surroundings. That doesn’t mean a BuzzFeed ad unit necessarily, though. Heise says a compelling fashion ad in Vogue could be considered native advertising. She’s not alone in her view. As Reuters columnist Felix Salmon noted in a recent column:
A native ad is something that consumers read, interact with, even share — it fills up their attention space, for a certain period of time, in a way that banner ads never do … In that sense, TV ads are truly native; the way you consume a TV ad is the same as the way you consume a TV show. Similarly, long copy print ads are native, for the same reason. And the ultimate native ads are the glossy fashion ads in Vogue: In most cases, they’re better than the editorial, and as a result, readers spend as much time with the ads — if not more — as they do with the edit.
The more you delve into it, the more “native” seems to be a synonym for “good” with regard to advertising. Or at least, it’s an attempt to make online advertising as good as TV or print ads. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily new, either.