Native Advertising Isn’t New, But It’s The Future

By Jonathan Perelman, VP, Agency Strategy and Development, BuzzFeed

Media consumption and consumer habits are rapidly changing. Look no further than your own behavior. Do you sleep with your phone by your bed? Sure, it’s your alarm clock, but do you check it before you go to sleep, or when you first wake up? Let’s be honest. The challenge for marketers today is to reach consumers in a way that invites them in, not distracts them from what they are doing.

Native advertising is a hot topic in marketing today and for good reason. Unlike intrusive banner ads, native advertising does not distract consumers from what they are doing, but adds to the overall experience.  With all the attention recently given to native, we should remember that native advertising isn’t new in digital. The most well known is search, as the ads are native to the environment of the search results. However, the convergence of content marketing and native advertising provides an organic way for brands to enter the conversation with consumers.

Throughout the history of advertising, we have taken the type of ads that have worked on one platform, and tried to make them work for the new technology. The first radio ads simply were the audio of a print spot. The next evolution were TV ads, which were radio spots with an image. Today, standard banner ads are the most prevalent ads, but that doesn’t make them good.  Ask yourself, what’s the last great banner ad you’ve seen?

As the digital advertising ecosystem has evolved from Portal -> Search -> Social, online ads need to evolve as well. As mentioned earlier, native advertising isn’t new, but can be broken into two categories, 1. Utility 2. Content. If you’re in a new city and need to find a coffee shop, you’re likely to search for one. Maybe you launch the maps function to search for directions to your desired location. But, what happens after you find that shop, and you’re the 15th person in line for that latte? Most likely you take out your phone to snack on content until the milk is steamed and your caffeine is ready. Increasingly, the type of content that people are consuming is branding, as it is as equally captivating as editorial.

The challenge for advertisers today is to be seen and stand out in an environment where social is the new starting point online. Creating social, shareable content to be served in a native environment allows the advertiser to tell a story, and to engage the consumer in the natural environment of content.

Native ads are even more important when we talk about mobile. The promise of mobile appears to be unfulfilled from an advertising perspective. Simply repurposing ads from desktop onto a smaller screen doesn’t work. A recent study* found that 40% of clicks on mobile banner ads are a result of fat-finger clicks, or mistakes. At BuzzFeed, we see more sharing of content (including ads) from the mobile device than we do on desktop. We don’t consider mobile as a separate platform, we think mobile web first.

Native advertising isn’t new, but the convergence of factors leads to native being the perfect type of advertising for this stage of the web. Combining the elements of social, brands as publishers and the importance of the mobile web are all factors that lead to the prominence and opportunity of native advertising.

This article appeared as part of the AAF’s 2013 Digital Resource Guide, which can be downloaded here.